Strange ideas some have about being healthy

A man exercises along the Waterfront Promenade near Marina Bay Sands.
A man exercises along the Waterfront Promenade near Marina Bay Sands.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Some positive suggestions have been given and measures implemented to improve the health of Singaporeans.

But in my medical practice, I come across patients who have misconceptions about health and being healthy.

They tell me of a "very healthy" friend or relative who died suddenly. Their definition of a "very healthy" person is someone who has not been to a doctor for many years and exercises regularly.

On further probing, I would learn that the person concerned had not undergone any health screening and had no inkling of whether he had any chronic medical condition.

With regard to exercise, walking to the bus stop to go to work, walking around a block of flats occasionally and weekly exercise involving the "shaking" of the upper and lower limbs are not adequate to increase cardiovascular capacity and strengthen muscles and joints.

The heart and lungs need to be exercised such that the heart reaches a certain number of beats per minute and for a certain amount of time. The frequency of such cardiovascular exercises also matters.

Older folk often succumb to sarcopenia (the wasting away of muscles), and joint pain and stiffness because the muscles and joints have not been exercised enough to promote good mobility and good balance so as to prevent falls.

Some patients, when told to cut down on sugar intake, would reply that it would not be good for their health. So they take some sugar even though they are diabetic and obese. Some do not believe that complex carbohydrates like rice, bread and noodle contribute to the sugar in their diet.

Some 20 per cent of young people in the US have fatty liver because of the amount of sugar they consume in upsized sugary drinks, fruit juice, carbonated drinks and desserts.

Frequent exercise does not stop them from developing fatty liver, which may lead to liver cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.

In Singapore, the per capita alcohol consumption has nearly trebled from 2005 to 2015, with 4.3 per cent of men and 0.8 per cent of women drinking alcohol regularly, or more than four times a week.

Patients who are told not to drink alcohol excessively would reply that a little drink would not hurt and it helps them to socialise and relax.

The recommended limit is two standard drinks a day for men and one for women. A standard alcoholic drink is defined as a can of regular beer, half a glass (100ml) of wine or 30ml of spirits.

The overconsumption of alcohol leads to multiple health and psychological problems. Often, patients think they are drinking moderately when, in fact, the amount and frequency that they drink point to overconsumption.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2019, with the headline 'Strange ideas some have about being healthy'. Print Edition | Subscribe