SINGAPORE - Regular exercise is beneficial to the body in many ways. It is good for the heart, acts as a stress reliever and an anti-depressant and gives the immune system a boost, helping to keep illness at bay.
It also helps to control weight gain by burning off calories and can even help in weight loss.
But there is no need to always head to the gym in order to exercise. Regular physical activity can be worked into one's daily routine and there are many simple ways to do this.
One is to change your sitting habits. Rather than sit for long hours, try to stand up more.
For example, one can choose to stand when taking the MRT or bus, or while talking to someone on the phone at work.
Even computer work can be done standing up. Your workstation can be modified so you have the option to stand with the computer at eye level when you need it.
You can also take a quick walk around the office every hour - for example, to the water cooler or restroom to break up long periods of sitting.
While watching TV at home, stand up during advertisement breaks or lightly jog on the spot.
Just by standing up more and taking those extra few steps, you are burning more calories, said Ms Kirsten Eve McClements, a physiotherapist at Singapore General Hospital's Life Centre.
When you are out of the house, choose to take the stairs rather than the lift or escalator.
Try getting off the bus a stop or two earlier, or park the car further away from your destination to give yourself the chance to walk a little.
This way, you can work more physical activity into your daily life. Setting such small, realistic targets also makes it easier for you to integrate the changes into your regular routine.
For example, you can fit in a 10-minute walk after lunch five days a week, rather than set a difficult goal of hitting the gym four times a week, said Ms McClements.
Failing to meet a goal may discourage you from exercising, she added.
You should also try to plan your physical activity for a specific time each day so it becomes a habit.
Research has shown that associating an activity with a daily event or place will make you more likely to make the chosen physical activity part of your daily life, rather than view it as a chore, said Ms McClements.
Some examples include always going for a 10-minute walk after breakfast, always taking the stairs when you are at the MRT station, or always using your office gym every Wednesday at lunch time, she added.
Also, try to choose an activity you enjoy, as this will make you more likely to stick to it.
Doing the activity with a friend will make it more fun and keep you motivated and accountable for continuing with it.
It is also important to start slowly before gradually increasing the frequency and intensity of the physical activity to prevent injury and excessive fatigue.
Walking is a great way to get started, said Ms McClements.
Choose a cooler time or day or an indoor location, and walk at a speed that makes you feel a little breathless. You should still be able to talk but not sing.
You should feel your heart rate get faster and maybe perspire a little.
Try and walk for at least 10 minutes. If you cannot do this in one go, then walk as far as you can, stop and rest and continue until you accumulate 10 minutes.
Gradually, as you get fitter, you should be able to increase the time and speed you can walk before you need to stop.
Choose food wisely
On top of regular physical activity, diet is important for weight control and weight loss.
Weight gain occurs when a person consistently takes in more calories (energy) than needed for his physical activities.
How quickly a person loses weight depends on several factors, such as the amount of physical activity done, age, sex and starting body mass index, said Ms Fathimath Naseer, a dietitian at National University Hospital.
In general, a 60kg person seeking to lose 5kg may shed 0.5kg per week by achieving a daily deficit of 500 calories, she said.
Two to three months is a realistic time target in which to lose 5kg.
Both the quality and quantity of food determines one's total calorie intake, said Ms Fathimath.
Alcohol and food that are high in fat and sugar should be consumed as little as possible as they have a lot of calories but few essential nutrients.
But losing weight does not mean avoiding food, as the body needs calories to function.
It is also not necessary to actually "count calories", said Ms Fathimath.
Replacing calorie-dense food with lower calorie options and controlling portion sizes will usually ensure a reduction in calorie intake.
Eating one serving of fruit is better than drinking a glass of fruit juice as the fruit itself will be higher in dietary fibre and lower in calories than its juice, said Ms Fathimath. The fibre will also help to make you feel full.
However, limit fruit intake to two servings per day to avoid increasing your total daily calorie intake through the sugar in fruit. Replace a regular soft drink with a diet soft drink that contains no calories, suggested Ms Fathimath.
By consciously moving about more, choosing food wisely and cutting down on portion sizes, weight gain should not be an issue and you could even drop some kilos.
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