When we look at athletes at the Olympics, they seem almost superhuman. What many do not realise is that they are really fulfilling the potential of their bodies through a dedicated ritual of movement. While not all of us aspire to be this charged up, it is good to remember that as human beings, our bodies are meant to be kept active.
THE SEDENTARY GENERATION
Offices. Screens. Chairs. The urban lifestyle is plagued with conveniences, rooting our body down when it really needs to move.
In her article “Born to Move”, New York Times wellness writer Gretchen Reynolds asks: “Are we fighting thousands of years of evolutionary history and the best interests of our bodies when we sit all day?”
After observing the Hadza tribe who hunt in Tanzania, she found their cardiovascular health to be in top condition, while city-living folks are battling rising chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and certain forms of cancer.
This is a sentiment echoed by Dr Cormac O’Muircheartaigh, a specialist in sports medicine and the medical director of Sports Medicine Lab in Singapore.
“The human body is a phenomenal work of art. It is intrinsically designed to move. We are designed to move, forage, hunt, walk, climb, trek,” he shared. “But a lot of modern advancements that are designed to make our lives easier remove some of the benefits associated with movement.”
Dr Lim Yii Hong, medical director at Myos Clinic, added that physical inactivity can be a vicious cycle. He explained: “The conditions and problems that make a person more prone to sedentarism also get worse with sedentarism. Take a person with osteoarthritis, for example. The less the joint is moved, the weaker and stiffer it gets, and the more unlikely the person will move. Our bodies are made to move so when we become sedentary, a lot of things work less well in almost every system in our body, from our metabolism to our brain function and intestinal function.”
STEPPING UP TO 150
Because the human body is so adaptive, sitting on a couch the whole day will adjust your body to that activity. Soon, you’ll notice yourself breathing harder (smaller lungs), having difficulty in gathering your thoughts (reduced brain functions), and losing your range of motion.
The good news is, once you start moving, your body happily adjusts itself again.
Said Ms Sharon Lim, sports physiotherapist and director at Moving Space: “Our tissues are designed for movement – joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves. With movement comes nourishment to these tissues.”
To promote movement, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has a new campaign – #MoveIt150. Based on National Physical Activity Guidelines, 150 is the recommended number of minutes per week one should engage in moderate to vigorous physical activities (MVPA) like jogging and swimming. This number goes beyond incidental physical activity, like walking to the MRT station.
Why 150? Physiotherapist at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Ms Lenis Phoa, said: “150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise is about 50 to 70 per cent of maximum heart rate exercise per week based on numerous international exercise guidelines. It comes down to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise for five days a week. To spare that time for your health is a good start, especially for busy Singaporeans who have led sedentary lifestyles for a long time.”
Dr O’Muircheartaigh agrees. “Individuals need to look at activity as an investment in their physical and financial health, for their future,” he said. “Exercise has been shown to reduce the incidence of many diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.”
The plan is to keep the 150 minutes achievable through flexibility, but the many benefits should steal the show. You will improve your physical strength and agility, and a boosted circulation gives one an instant post-workout glow. Long-term benefits listed in several medical studies cite weight control, reduction in risks of diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart conditions, as well as mental agility and stress reduction.
All age groups can benefit from this, as Ms Amanda Lim, national swimmer and SEA Games medallist, can attest to. “Moving and being active is important for people of all ages. If you’re a toddler, it allows your muscles to grow in the right way. If you’re elderly, it cultivates active ageing and gives you good control of your body. Everyone can benefit from psychological benefits, such as sleeping better at night, which in turn, improves your mood the next day.”
FROM DESKBOUND TO OUTBOUND
To help with the desk-strapped workforce, the HPB has brought a raft of programmes into the habitat. Augmenting the incidental exercises with some MVPA three to five times a week, activities such as jogging, spinning, aerobics and yoga are now made accessible with targeted points of participation.
Start your day right with Sunrise in the City, a morning workout programme that is available at more than 30 locations. Over 60 free workouts in studio gyms will get you going, from light aerobic dance fitness to heart-thumping HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions.
Music has been said to improve workout performance. So why not check out Fitness @ Work, located near most office zones, with aerobic-infused, mixed dance fitness programmes like Zumba?
Those familiar with shopping can pick major mall venues for some workouts, with walk-in registration. And runners can enjoy i-Run, free weekly runs at scenic locations led by professional pacers that will impart tips and techniques that can improve one’s cardiovascular fitness.
As Dr O’Muircheartaigh sagely suggests: “Movement is medicine.” If you would like to work that 150 minutes into your week, start by visiting gethealthy.sg/moveit to get more information, and sign up for the free physical activity programmes that work with your schedule and interest.