More stepping up in HPB's health challenge

Mr Tan How Lit, who had difficulty walking due to compressed spinal nerves, said since taking part in the National Steps Challenge in 2015, he has managed to clock an average of 10,000 steps day.
Mr Tan How Lit, who had difficulty walking due to compressed spinal nerves, said since taking part in the National Steps Challenge in 2015, he has managed to clock an average of 10,000 steps day.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

30,000 National Steps Challenge participants clock 5km a day, but experts say walking alone is not enough

Singaporeans are taking a step in the right direction - at least if the results of the latest National Steps Challenge are anything to go by.

During the latest season, which ran from last October to April this year, 30,000 out of its 696,000 participants managed to clock an average of 5km a day over six months - almost 1,000km in total.

This was up from 26,000 participants achieving the feat in the 2016/17 event. The results were revealed last month by the Health Promotion Board (HPB), which has been organising the event since 2015.

Participants track their steps with pedometers to accumulate points that can be exchanged for shopping vouchers.

The marked improvement comes as latest obesity figures from the Health Ministry show that children are getting fatter.

Last year, 13 per cent of children in mainstream schools were overweight compared with 11 per cent in 2011.

Adults fared better, with 36 per cent of Singaporeans aged 18 to 69 found to be overweight last year, down from 40 per cent in 2010.

But aerobic exercise like walking is not enough, experts warn.

A review of evidence from Public Health England, which provides expertise from public health specialists, found that walking must be complemented by muscle and bone strengthening and balance activities.

In middle and older age, these activities help to maintain and improve body function, as well as reduce death from cardiovascular disease and from any other causes.

The review recommended doing high-intensity resistance training, some impact exercise - such as running, jumping or skipping - and balance training at least twice a week.

The HPB said the National Steps Challenge encourages participants to build muscle strength and improve balance while clocking steps.

It added: "Some of these physical activities include stair climbing, circuit training and using resistance bands or weights to do body-weight exercises, which help to build muscular strength and endurance."

The HPB added that it encourages Singaporeans to exercise in other ways through its 700-plus free weekly workout sessions that include zumba and aerobic dance.

The 41,000 people who have taken part in all three editions of the National Steps Challenge also walked more in the third season.

Their average daily number of steps went up by 8 per cent to nearly 10,000 steps.

Experts agree that people should engage in various forms of exercise.

For example, impact and balance training can be built into exercise routines, said Dr Eugene Chew, head of programme for Sports and Physical Education at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

National Steps Challenge participant Tan How Lit, 70, said exercise helped him get back on his feet - literally.

Ten years ago, he underwent an operation to relieve pressure on compressed spinal nerves, which left him with shrunken leg muscles and difficulty walking.

But after taking part in the challenge in 2015, he managed to clock an average of 10,000 steps day, and has continued to participate in the following two seasons.

"Walking has now become a habit for me," said the retiree, who is formerly a distribution manager for a printing company.

Mr Tan, who is also diabetic, now skips the bus in favour of walking to markets near his home.

"I no longer get tired after (walking) a short distance."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2018, with the headline 'More stepping up in HPB's health challenge'. Print Edition | Subscribe