Standing instead of sitting at work. Climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift to get home. Walking to buy food instead of having meals delivered.
These are some of the changes people can make amid their busy schedules to pave the way to a more active and healthier lifestyle.
Make Every Move Count! That was the key message in the first of a series of six webinars organised by Active Health.
In the webinar, Mr Lim Teck Yin, CEO of Sport Singapore (SportSG), and Dr Benedict Tan, Chairman of Exercise is Medicine Singapore and the Lead Advisor for the Singapore Physical Activity Guidelines (SPAG) Expert Advisory Committee tackled wide-ranging issues, from how agility training for senior citizens can help in fall prevention to the importance of exercise in injury recovery.
At the heart of the discussion was the need to look at health and well-being as an enabler, and to understand that keeping fit and active improves the quality of life.
➤ Watch the Webinar Highlights
The communities that live the longest and are free of chronic disease are those where movement is entrenched in their daily routines, noted Mr Lim. “We recognise that in our busy lives here in Singapore, many of those factors in those communities are possibly absent,” he said. So people have to make the effort to incorporate movement as much as they can.
“For me at work, I try to incorporate movement as much as I can. We have a practice of not forcing everyone to be sitting at the table when we have a meeting. I don’t sit in the chair all the time because I find that moving and standing enables me to concentrate better and feel better,” said Mr Lim.
“That comes from a mindful awareness that sitting for long periods of time is detrimental to my performance. So, I think that if we can incorporate more movement as part of a routine - to more deliberately do things that way - it would be a much easier practice than trying to really squeeze in an intervention of a physical workout for peak physical fitness, if that’s not your lifestyle.”
Dr Tan pointed out that employers can play a part in this too. “If you look at SportSG, they embody what the employer can do for the staff. The practices in the organisation facilitate physical activity. And we wish that other organisations in Singapore take the lead from SportSG and inculcate those practices as well,” he said.
Encouraging people to be more active and less sedentary is the focus of the Singapore Physical Activity Guidelines, which were revised this year. The set of guidelines is now more holistic and practical.
Mr Lim said: “It seeks to emphasise components that perhaps previously were not sufficiently emphasised. For example, besides aerobic fitness and cardio work, it emphasises strength training, balance, flexibility. To help people understand that if we want to function well as human beings, perform well in our role as parents, perform well in our role as people who are working, or even to stay free of chronic disease and be functionally independent as seniors in our community, that these are the components of health and well-being that will enable that performance.”
The previous guidelines were very prescriptive in terms of duration, for instance recommending at least ten minutes of activity at a time, said Dr Tan.“But If I’ve got five minutes to go for a brisk walk while waiting for a meeting to start? Yeah, why not? So we’ve removed the time-specific recommendations. Something is better than nothing.”
Keeping active is a choice. Mr Lim and Dr Tan are both decorated sportsmen: the former was a national water polo player; the latter, a national sailor. But after they retired from competitive sports, they chose to keep sports and exercise part of their lives because they understood the benefits of staying active.
Dr Tan said: “After I retired from competitive sailing, I realised that the fitness foundation that I had, the health benefits that I had - I wanted to sustain that. I didn’t want to lose that. So even though I’m working as a doctor, I made it a point to stay fit. Because it’s a valuable asset that I earned. And because I worked hard for it, I didn’t want to lose it.”
And one of the aims of the Healthier SG plan - a major reform of Singapore’s healthcare system - is to help Singaporeans take steps towards better health.
“It is really all about being able to encourage Singaporeans to not look at health and well-being as an end outcome in and of itself, but to be able to appreciate all the things that they would love to be able to do and experience in their lives, and therefore look at health and well-being as an enabler.” said Mr Lim.
“Getting into sports starts with baby steps”, said Dr Tan. It was his routines and hobbies - such as his early morning runs and skiing trips - that inspired his wife to embrace exercise. Now, she runs marathons, scuba dives, and even skis.
In time-strapped Singapore, keeping active requires making deliberate choices and changes - and every small bouts of physical activity count.
Mr Lim said: “In communities that are healthy and well and live to a ripe old age without chronic illness, movement is part of the routine. For us, we can make it part of our routine, in our office spaces, in our living rooms. And I think Healthier SG is trying to encourage that. And as community partners, we’re there to provide that understanding, to encourage the aspiration, to encourage the level of mindfulness.”
The social aspect of physical activity can be a great motivator. Getting together with a group of friends can fuel a person’s interest to get active through sport and exercise, said Mr Lim: “Because, really, it’s the friendships and the desire to come together. Be more aware of how you feel, and what helps you feel good and helps you feel well, and to make that part of your habit and practice.”
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