Balance is key to health

Watch your diet, activity and sleep patterns. Ng Wan Ching reports


There are many keys to unlocking a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Among them is eating properly, getting regular exercise and enough sleep.

Achieving a balanced lifestyle does not happen overnight, especially if bad habits are entrenched.

Nonetheless, getting back to basics is within everybody's reach, if you can make small changes and keep on making them.


What you eat habitually can increase your risk for chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Or it could promote your health.

According to the Health Promotion Board (HPB), you should have five to seven servings of grains, two servings of fruit, two servings of vegetables and two to three servings of protein a day.

Wholegrain foods such as brown rice, wholemeal bread and rolled oats contain vitamins (vitamins B and E), minerals (iron, zinc and magnesium), phytochemicals (lignans, phytosterols) and inulin (a type of dietary fibre) which are good for you.

You can start by replacing white bread with bread that is made using unrefined wholegrain flour including wholemeal and wholewheat bread.

You can also mix brown rice with white rice and cook them together.

Another important habit to cultivate is to add more colours to your plate.

The natural pigments in fruit and vegetables can help to protect us from common diseases such as heart disease and cancer, so have a mix of red, yellow, green and purple in the vegetables and fruit you choose.

Choose healthier oils with a lower level of saturated fat and avoid trans fats.

According to HPB, you should limit alcohol intake to two drinks per day if you are a woman and three drinks if you are a man.

A standard drink is a can (220ml) of beer, a glass (100ml) of wine or a nip (30ml) of spirits.


A balanced lifestyle also means engaging in regular exercise.

This should be varied and include aerobic, strengthening and stretching exercises, said Ms Pauline Khoo, physiotherapist at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Exercise can also help you to achieve a healthy weight, reduce stress and improve overall well-being, she said.

Studies have shown that a lack of exercise is associated with anxiety, cardiovascular disease, obesity and osteoporosis.

But on the other hand, other studies also show that excessive exercise may stress the heart and cause irregular heartbeats, she warned.

Hence, balance is key.

Always listen to your body and stop if you feel any sudden onset of chest pain, said Ms Khoo.

Someone suffering from muscular and joint pain should seek medical help so that he can continue to exercise safely, she added.

If you have been completely sedentary, find a physical activity you enjoy and start slowly.

Or incorporate exercise into your daily life. For instance, take the stairs instead of the lift and get off one or two bus stops before your stop and walk the rest of the way, said Ms Khoo.

This would make exercise seem less daunting.

For people who are constantly on their feet during the day, cycling and swimming are good exercise options, she added.

Setting simple and realistic short-term goals (such as taking the stairs and getting off a stop earlier) will help you stay focused and motivated and you can gradually build up the intensity, frequency and duration of the physical activity as your fitness improves.

This will also allow time for the body to adjust to the increased physical activity and help to prevent injuries, said Ms Khoo.

The HPB recommends that a healthy adult engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity in a week and muscle-strengthening activity on two or more days a week.

There are a few ways to measure relative intensity of the exercise for the individual. One simple way is to use the talk test.

As a rule of thumb, the person should be able to talk, but not sing during a moderate-intensity activity, said Ms Khoo.

He should not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath during a vigorous-intensity activity, she added.


An average adult sleeps about seven hours a day.

However, there is a range of what is considered normal, said Dr Ong Thun How, director of the sleep disorders unit and senior consultant at the department of respiratory and critical care medicine at SGH.

Generally, you have slept enough if you wake up feeling refreshed and are able to maintain your concentration throughout the day.

Young adults sleep about eight hours a day, older adults an average of seven hours per day, said Dr Ong.

Beyond middle age, there is no appreciable decline in the average sleep requirement, he said.

Sleep is important beyond getting rest - there are epidemiological studies that link inadequate sleep with weight gain and obesity.

One American study a few years ago found that women who slept five hours or less were a third more likely to put on 15kg of weight over a period of 16 years than those who slept more.

Sleep deprivation also affects a person's mood and motivation, as well as make it more likely that he would feel too tired to exercise, said Dr Ong.

That said, there is a large variation in both individual sleep requirements and the extent to which sleep deprivation affects each individual, he added.

However, shorter-term studies have shown that sleep deprivation can impair the formation of germ-fighting antibodies and therefore the immune system.

That may be why some people report that they get sick more easily after an exhausting long-haul trip.

Sleep deprivation has also been shown to impair mood, vigilance, memory and increase chances of the upper airway becoming collapsible, among other things.

Some tips for good sleep habits, known as sleep hygiene, include waking up at around the same time every day, even on the days when you go to bed later than usual, said Dr Ong.

If you already have difficulty falling asleep, do not lie in bed tossing and turning constantly, watching time tick by. If you keep doing this, your mind and body become "conditioned" to struggle with sleep every night.

A daily ritual to help the person relax at the end of the day is a good lead-up to falling asleep easily, said Dr Ong.

This can take the form of a warm bath, dimmed lights, quiet reading, a relaxing TV programme, soft music or just about any relaxing and pleasurable activity that you look forward to at the end of the day, he said.

The bedroom should ideally be a place only for sleep and sexual activity.

If you have a problem with insomnia, you should not read, watch TV or work in bed.

Associating the bed with other types of activities will make it harder to fall asleep.

Avoid caffeine and stimulating activities close to bedtime, as well as smoking and drinking alcohol.

Stimulating activities such as vigorous exercise, intense work and exciting or violent TV programmes should be avoided close to bedtime as well.

If we can learn to wind down after a day of stresses, our natural sleep drive, which has built up over the day of wakefulness, takes over and allows us to fall asleep.

ST 20140612 COKE12 39383888m

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