3.DEC.2019 10 MIN READ | 10 MIN READ

How can you lead a healthier life – simply? Here are 20 health tips!

1. Eat slowly

Did you know that eating too quickly can cause weight gain?

According to research, faster eaters are more likely to be overweight, as compared to people who eat more slowly. In one study, it was also suggested that this is 115% more likely to happen in middle-aged women.

As you eat, your body releases ‘fullness hormones’ that tell your brain you’ve eaten and should stop. However, as this process takes about 20 minutes, speedy eaters may consume too much food and only receive this signal later – which explains the ‘post-buffet bloat’ you may feel after a satisfying meal.

The next time you’re having a meal, make a conscious effort to eat slower and observe the effect on your appetite.

2. Drink more water

You may have heard of the saying to “drink 8 glasses of water a day”, yet not many may actually follow this, often choosing to count their total liquid intake instead – which usually includes sodas, coffee, and other beverages.

Your body isn’t made up of soft drinks and beers, however. Depending on age, about 60% of the human body is made up of water. There are numerous benefits of drinking more water – it helps us to control our calorie intake, energises our muscles, keeps our kidneys healthy, and hydrates the skin.

As you stay hydrated with water, you’ll also find yourself having fewer cravings for sugary or less healthy beverages.

3. Read nutrition labels

Read nutrition labels
If weight loss is one of your health goals, make it a habit to read the nutritional labels on your foods during your grocery shopping.

Look out for the total amount of calories a product contains, and not just for 1 serving (which is typically what’s stated on the label).

Reading nutrition labels will also help you to avoid only reading marketing labels like “high in fibre”, “low fat” or “zero sugar”, as these labels may be misleading. While a product is “high in calcium”, it could also be high in sugar – a detail you may have missed if you hadn’t read the nutrition label.

4. Lose (or reduce) the sauce

As Asians, we love our sauces. After all, what’s chicken rice without a generous dose of garlic chilli sauce? Or char kuey teow without its aromatic black sauce? Some may also argue that dipping fries into cheese make them taste better.

But how many calories do your favourite sauces contain? Here’s a quick glance:

  • Thousand Island dressing: 56 calories (per tablespoon/tbsp, or 15ml)
  • Chilli sauce: 20 calories (per tbsp/18g)
  • Soy sauce: 10 calories (per tbsp/15ml)
  • Mayonnaise: 90 calories (per tbsp/13g)
  • Cream sauce: 439 calories (per cup/244g)
  • Gravy: 123 calories (per cup/233g)

Next time you’re eating out, ask for less sauce to reduce the amount of calories you consume. This may also help you to appreciate your food better – you may be surprised by the subtle flavours hidden behind that extra spoonful of sauce.

5. Get a body composition scale

This can be a useful addition to your home (and health). Depending on the complexity of your chosen device, these scales typically measure your body’s weight, muscle, water, fat and bone density.

Whether your goal is to lose weight or gain muscle, the measurements you can get from a body composition scale can help you track your progress more clearly than a simple bodyweight scale. Just be sure to step on the scale once a day, and at the same time each day, so you can track your progress. Remember that you’re not looking for day-to-day fluctuations, but long-term trends in fat and muscle mass.

6. Research a diet before jumping on it

Research a diet
From keto to paleo, vegan to Mediterranean, there’s no lack of options for people looking to try a new diet to be healthier and even lose weight. The only question is, which diet should you choose, and is it right for you?

The best diet should be one that complements your health goals and lifestyle. If you intend on starting a diet, research its pros and cons, and learn how to embark on it safely. Remember that while your immediate goal may be weight loss, your long-term health should be placed above any short-term gains.

7. Eat more fruits and vegetables

Eat more fruits and vegetables
A health survey of more than 65,000 participants found that people who ate the most portions of fruits or vegetables (7 or more) each day had a 42% reduced risk of dying (from any cause), compared to individuals who ate less than one portion a day.

However, you may want to choose more fresh produce, as it was found that frozen and canned fruit can also increase the risk of dying by 17%.

Need a tip on how you can add more fruits and vegetables into your diet? Buy some cut fruit after lunch and bring it to your workplace. The next time you’re hungry, that fruit will be the closest and most convenient snack you’ll reach for.

8. Work out (at least) 3 times a week

According to Active Health (an initiative by the Singapore Sports Council), adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week. The reality though, is that only 26% of Singaporeans do so.

Hitting this goal doesn’t have to be difficult. You can try:

  • Do more of an activity you’re already doing
  • Picking an activity you think you’ll enjoy doing, and start doing it

These can be small changes. For example, instead of walking with your dog, put on your running shoes and jog with your dog. And if you’re already running twice a week, add a third day to explore different routes at a relaxing, enjoyable pace.

9. Start your day with a stretch

Start day with a stretch
Stretching isn’t only for yogis or gymnasts – everyone should stretch. If you’re a pet owner, you may have observed that your dog or cat does so naturally every morning – a sign that stretching is a natural activity we should be doing more of, especially if you lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle.

A published Harvard Health letter says that stretching keeps our muscles flexible and healthy, while maintaining our range of motion. Stiff and inflexible muscles can shorten and become tight, increasing the risk of strains, joint pain and muscle damage.

10. Quit smoking

While legislation has placed disease-riddled images on cigarette boxes and eliminated tobacco advertising for decades, smoking is still a fairly common habit in Singapore. According to HealthHub, 6 Singaporeans die prematurely from smoking-related diseases every day.

Quitting smoking can be challenging, but also one of the most life-changing decisions you make. Some strategies to overcome the addiction include exercise, support groups, relaxation techniques like breathing, or even nicotine replacement therapy.

11. Sign up for a run

Need some motivation to get up and running? Round up your friends or colleagues and sign up for a run together. Choose a category based on your interests and current fitness level. Consider a 5km race for a start.

If you choose slightly more challenging events and distances, you’ll be motivated to not only go attend the event, but to also train up for it, thereby improving your fitness level.

12. Join a gym that’s next to your office or home

It’s been said that approximately 80% of people who own gym memberships don’t actually go to the gym. Another study revealed that 80% of people who sign up for memberships in January of any year usually quit within the first 5 months.

If you’re considering signing up for a gym membership, choose one that’s in close proximity to your office or home. This can reduce the possibility of the gym being “out of sight and out of mind”. Being able to walk to the gym also makes exercising a simple thing to do, and prevents you from skipping workout sessions whenever you feel unmotivated.

13. Get a fitness tracker (and use it)

These days, fitness trackers are changing the way people live and work out. These intelligent wrist-based devices can track your heart rate and the distance of your run, and count the number of calories you burn during workouts.

While the accuracy of fitness trackers (and smart watches) may have been questionable a few years ago, the accuracy, reliability and reputation of these devices have been said to have improved remarkably in recent years.

14. Sleep for 6 – 8 hours daily

Sleep for 6 - 8 hours daily
Did you know that 6 – 8 is the recommended number of hours of sleep adults should get every night for better health? According to a paper on sleep duration and mortality, researchers also found that people who get less than 7 hours of sleep a night are 12% more likely to die prematurely.

However, be careful to not oversleep, as it was also found that people who sleep more than 8 – 9 hours daily have a 30% added risk of dying prematurely.

The conclusion? Go to sleep at a time that allows you to have 6 – 8 hours of rest, then wake up when the alarm rings – and not after hitting the snooze button several times!

15. Smile and laugh more

This is one of the simplest, yet more powerful changes you can make to improve your mental health.

Why does this work? When we laugh, we breathe deeper and take in more air, which stimulates our heart, lungs and muscles. It also increases endorphins released by our brains, which positively influence our physiology and mood – automatically placing us into a better, happier state.

So go ahead, smile often and inject more laughter into your days. Sometimes, laughter really can be the best medicine.

16. Choose a nap over coffee

Are you always relying on caffeine to get you through your days? A good alternative is taking a nap. You can get a powerful energy boost from a 20 or 30-minute nap, which may even positively influence your productivity in your daily activities.

In fact, the National Sleep Foundation quotes a study from NASA – which found that sleepy military pilots and astronauts who took a 40-minute nap demonstrated a 34% improvement in their performance and an astounding 100% increase in alertness.

17. Meditate

Did you know that chronic stress can affect our immune, digestive and reproductive systems, and even make us more susceptible to heart attack and stroke?

When living or working in high-stress environments, the practice of meditation can be a life-changer. In fact, a study of over 3,500 adults proved that meditation is an excellent way of relieving stress.

Meditating can be challenging for beginners, so start small (eg. 30 seconds). Build on your momentum and slowly make your way up to longer meditation periods. Try downloading a meditation app for a guided experience, or simply sit on the floor, close your eyes and focus on your breath as you breathe slowly for your preferred period of time.

18. Care for an animal

Care for an animal
If you have children, getting a domestic pet will not only give them a playmate and walking companion, but may also help them develop immunities against allergies. In a study, it was documented how children are less likely to develop pet-related allergies if they grow up in a household with dogs or cats.

It’s important to remember that pets are a lifelong commitment. Before making the decision to get one, be sure you and your family are willing to commit the time, energy and money needed to care for them.

19. Fall (or stay) in love

The feeling of being in love makes us feel like we’re on cloud nine, which is one of the best things about being in love. This is because our brain is rewarded with blasts of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin, endorphins, the “happy” brain chemicals that are released by our brain when experiencing the emotional and physical stages of a relationship.

20. Keep a journal of daily wins

Keep a journal
Referencing a Harvard Business School professor in her TEDx talk on achieving success through small wins, educator Mehrnaz Bassiri says that keeping a daily diary of progress helps us to reflect on our days and record all the small achievements that would otherwise go unnoticed.

This habit helps us to chronicle and celebrate our small wins, even on those frustrating days when we feel we haven’t accomplished much.

These “wins” can be anything from making a healthy eating choice during lunch, reacting positively to a negative situation at work, or simply doing something that made you happy or inspired, for the first time.

Remember, you can lead a healthier life by simply making small changes, one at a time. Start by picking a few of your favourite tips mentioned in this Health Plus article and incorporating them into your daily routine. Sticking to these healthy habits throughout the year will also go a long way towards maintaining your good health!

 

Article reviewed by Dr Samuel Low, clinical director at Parkway Hospitals

References

Franziska Spritzler (2019, June 18) Does Eating Slowly Help You Lose Weight? Retrieved November 21, 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eating-slowly-and-weight-loss

Kathleen M. Zelman (2008, May 8) 6 Reasons to Drink Water. Retrieved November 21, 2019 from https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/6-reasons-to-drink-water#1

Sauces & Dressings Calories (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.calories.info/food/sauces-dressings

Sarah Boseley (2014, April 1) Fruit and Vegetable Intake: Five a Day May Not Be Enough, Scientists Say. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/apr/01/fruit-and-vegetables-seven-portions-ucl-study

How Much Physical Activity Do You Need? (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.myactivesg.com/Active-Health/Domains/Physical-Activity

(2019, September 25) The Portance of Stretching. Retrieved November 21, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching

(2018, August 1) Smoking Statistics in Singapore. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/597/questions_smoking

(2014, April 1) UCL study finds new evidence linking fruit and vegetable consumption with lower mortality. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2014/apr/ucl-study-finds-new-evidence-linking-fruit-and-vegetable-consumption-lower-mortality

9 Surprising Gym Statistics (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.realbuzz.com/articles-interests/fitness/article/9-surprising-gym-statistics

David Wallace (2019, March 7) 41 Gym Member Statistics That Will Surprise You. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://infographicjournal.com/41-gym-member-statistics-that-will-surprise-you

Francesco P. Cappuccio, Lanfranco D’Ella, Pasquale Stazzullo, Michele A. Miller (2010, May 1) Sleep Duration and All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2864873

(2019, April 5) Stress Relief from Laughter? It’s No Joke. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

Napping (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/napping 

Jeanne Segal, Melinda Smith, Robert Segal, Lawrence Robinson (2019, October) Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-symptoms-signs-and-causes.htm  

Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, Gould NF, Rowland-Seymour A, Sharma R, Berger Z, Sleicher D, Maron DD, Shihab HM, Ranasinghe PD, Linn S, Saha S, Bass EB, Haythornthwaite JA (2014, March) Meditation Programes for Psychological Stress and Well-Being: A Systematic Revierw and Meta-Analysis. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24395196

N. Aichbhaumik, E. M. Zoratti, R. Strickler, G. Wegienka, D. R. Ownby, S. Havstad, C. C. Johnson (2008, October 22) Prenatal Exposure to Household Pets Influences Fetal Immunoglobulin E Production. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2008.03079.x

Loretta G. Breuning (2018, February 13) The Neurochemistry of Love. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-neurochemical-self/201802/the-neurochemistry-love

Smith, Rob (2019, January 29). How to make your small wins work for you. Retrieved November 21, 2019 from
https://ideas.ted.com/how-to-make-your-small-wins-work-for-you

2.DEC.2019
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Dr Samuel Low
Clinical Director
Parkway Hospitals

Dr Samuel Low holds a medical degree and has clinical experience in anaesthesiology/intensive care, primary care and emergency medicine.