Fitness Myths Busted

Cut the Carbs

Myth: Taking carbohydrates out of your diet is a healthy way to lose weight.
Verdict: False.

Carbohydrates provide about 50-60 percent of the body’s energy calories, so a drastic reduction in carbohydrate intake means the thyroid slows down, decreasing metabolism and the body’s ability to break down fats and carbohydrates. Henson notes this can be detrimental to attempts to lose weight.

In fact, some carbohydrates are good for you. Complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, oats, brown pastas and brown rice) break down gradually, providing short bursts of energy throughout the day, meaning they take longer to add themselves to your beer gut. Henson says: “Complex carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy and consuming enough of them is necessary to ensure the proper digestion of protein to later provide muscle-nourishing nitrogen.”

In comparison, simple carbohydrates (such as anything made from refined white flour, including white pastas and white rice) just add to your weight because they don’t need to be broken down.

But it all depends on just how you eat carbohydrates and how many you eat. Tan explains: “All basic foods are generally good. For example, rice, white or brown, is good. But when we fry it with a lot of oil or butter and add it to fatty meat, we make it bad. Similarly, potatoes are good. But when we turn them into potato chips, we make them bad.”

Intake is also important. Both Henson and Tan agree that the optimal carbohydrate intake is five to six serves per day, throughout the day. Each serve size should be no bigger than a clenched fist. This doesn’t mean you can use your meathead friend’s fist to justify a big bowl of mashed spud. “It’s different for different people because everyone has different sized fists,” says Henson.

And don’t forget: If you cut out carbs, you’ll have to put something else in, and fatty foods are often the unfortunate alternative.

Walking It Off

Myth: Walking burns more fat than running.
Verdict: True.

The most productive form of fat burning exercise is that which keeps your heart rate in the fat burning zone for the longest. According to Henson, this means that is it not necessarily the intensity of the exercise that’s important, but the amount of time we can keep our heart at the ideal fat-burning heart rate. So if you’re unfit, then running around the block twice for 10 minutes might knock the hell out of you, but a less intense 20-minute walk might maintain your heart rate for longer, bringing about better results. It all depends on the individual and how much work you need to do to give your heart a good cardio workout.

Stretching Out

Myth: Flexibility indicates fitness.
Verdict: True.

If you’ve had joint pain after a long flight, you’ll know that moving your joints is important. Chung argues that flexibility is an indication of health and fitness because it’s a demonstration of the health of the parts of your body that move your joints: Your muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues. Exercising the joints gets the blood pumping, another important consideration. “Blood flow brings nutrients, oxygen, and carries off toxins,” Chung advises.

Hide From the Hawker

Myth: All hawker food is unhealthy and fattening.
Verdict: False.

Tan cautions that when eating hawker food, we must be discriminating about what we eat and how we eat it. “Go for less oily, less salty, less sweet and less flour-coated foods,” she warns.

So, while not all hawker food is bad, that doesn’t mean you should grab the next plate of carrot cake you see. Tan spoon-fed us some tips on how to handle that tempting hawker fare:

  • Fried noodles and yong tau foo should be eaten less often. But if you really can’t help yourself, at least buy a smaller portion.
  • Curry laksa is another one to avoid, but if you’ve ordered it, then leave the gravy behind rather than polishing off the whole bowl.
  • Eat less of the rice in your chicken rice order or ask for plain rice. On top of that, don’t eat the chicken skin and add some vegetables to the dish.
  • When ordering dry noodles, ask for no oil.

Overall, the best way to make hawker food healthier is to encourage hawkers to modify their recipes by choosing healthier options.

Do You Measure Up

Myth: BMI is an indicator of ideal weight and fitness.
Verdict: The jury’s out.

BMI (Body Mass Index) is simply a formula that tells you if you are over- or under-weight according to your height. It is calculated by dividing your body weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. Don’t get it? Try: Body weight (kg) ÷ [Height (m) x Height (m)]. The healthy range for Asians is 18.5-23.

So if your BMI is higher than average, does that mean you’re unfit and fat? Our experts were unable to agree on this. Tan acknowledges that there is no ideal weight, but sees BMI as “a good measure of healthy weight range. It does not necessarily indicate fitness, but it indicates health and or disease risks.”

Henson disagrees. “I find it [BMI] highly inaccurate,” he says. For instance, Henson contends that it does not apply to really active individuals. “Take a 90 kg athlete with a fat percentage of eight percent and a height of 1.73 m—a BMI of 30.1. According to this formula, he would be considered obese.” Henson suggests a different formula: The waist-to-hip ratio test. “Simple. The waist should be smaller than the hips. If not, you are overweight.”

Work Those Muscles

Yoga giant Pure Yoga (#18-00 Ngee Ann City, 391 Orchard Rd., 6733-8863) has arrived from Hong Kong. This studio is part of its plan to expand all over Asia, offering classes in yin yoga, yoga dance, hot yoga, hatha yoga and ashtanga vinyasa. Its teachers are from all around the world, and you’ll appreciate the finer touches here: Padlocks are provided, classes can be booked up to two days ahead either over the phone or online, and there are plenty of relaxation lounges where you can chill out with a good book if you’re a little early for your class.

Machine Powered

If you prefer to stretch and strengthen with machine precision, then Sky Pilates (#05-03 Liat Towers, 541 Orchard Rd., 6100-7597) has also arrived. It has brand spanking new machines, and its classes allow you to use almost the full array of pilates equipment—from the reformer machines to the ladder barrel to the wunder chair to the Cadillac. Because these super high tech reformers have a tower built in, you’ll be exposed to about 80 percent of the equipment, rather than the usual restrictions you find in group classes. There’s even a gyrotonic pulley tower if you want something different.

Run Away

If you like the feel of the wind in your hair while your feet pound the pavement, then you’ll be pleased to know that Running Lab (#03-20 Funan DigitaLife Mall, 109 North Bridge Rd., 6336-6775) has opened a store dedicated to running. There are running accessories like NATHAN hydration systems and Ingenious double-layer sports socks. Running Lab suggests that you bring your old runners in with you when you want to buy a new pair so that its staff can best tell what will suit your running style and feet. There’s even a treadmill for you to try out your new shoes before you buy.