ST's cheat sheet for 2018: How to stay healthy, eat better and be happy

Whatever your resolutions may be, some new year wishes are evergreen: Good health, better dietary habits, safety while abroad and general well-being.
Whatever your resolutions may be, some new year wishes are evergreen: Good health, better dietary habits, safety while abroad and general well-being.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The new year has begun in earnest, after a whirlwind 2017 that saw its fair share of news both good and bad.

Whatever your new year resolution may be, some new year wishes are evergreen, including those for good health, happiness and better food habits.

To start the year right, we share with you some tips on eating better, staying healthy, keeping safe while travelling and creating the conditions for happiness.

Eating better

1. Have diversity and colour on your plate


Kara super salad at Kara Cafe and Dessert Bar by Sogurt. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Try to eat dishes that are lower in salt, added sugar, saturated fat and trans fat.

As a general rule, it is better to eat in moderation from different types of food groups.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends eating a wide variety of food from all food groups: Whole grains, fruit and vegetables, meat and other protein-rich foods.

A plate of rice, with green vegetables and dark meat, followed by fresh fruit, would be a healthier meal than a plate of all-brown char kway teow, for example.

According to HPB's healthhub.sg website, recommended servings of each food group are as follows: Five to seven servings of brown rice and wholemeal bread daily; two servings of fruit daily; two servings of vegetables daily; and two to three servings of meat and others daily.

Serving sizes can be found here

2. Drink beverages with less sugar

You may be cutting down on salty, fried food, but still find yourself piling on weight. This may be due to your drink intake.

Where possible, drink plain water instead of canned sweet drinks. There is also lots of sugar to be found in popular beverages like bubble tea and even soya bean milk.

If a sweet drink is a must, try cutting down by asking for less sugar or no sugar. When ordering tea or coffee in coffee shops, go for the sugarless options.

If teh o kosong or kopi kosong is too strong for you, try ordering with evaporated milk (teh si or kopi si) instead of condensed milk (regular teh or kopi), which is sweetened.

3. Watch your snacking


Stock up on ready to eat fruit for snacks at the office. PHOTO: NTUC FAIRPRICE

If you work in an office, chances are you get snacks fairly often. Don't make the mistake of cutting down on unhealthy food and drinks but not the snacks, which can add up.

If you have a tendency to snack stock up on fruits or nuts.

You can buy fresh fruit such as bananas, small apples in ready packs or bunches of grapes to munch on while at work.

Fruit juice has been found to have less nutrition than whole fruit as juicing removes the beneficial fibre.

Staying healthy

1. Sit less, move more


HPB recommends 150 minutes of physical activity per week. PHOTO: ST FILE

A 2015 study cited by HPB says that 41 per cent of Singapore's workforce sits for at least eight hours a day, with 39 per cent of them failing to meet recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week.

To change this, you can start small by breaking up the amount of time you spend sitting down at work.

Take a five or 10-minute break every hour to the washroom or to grab a snack of fruit.

You can also try achieving HPB's set goal of 10,000 steps per day for better health.

HPB has launched its third edition of the National Steps Challenge, which participants can sign up for via its free Healthy 365 mobile app.

2. Pick up a sport


You can get admissions to gyms under Sports SG via the ActiveSG app. PHOTO: ST FILE

There are plenty of sports you can pick up, whether you prefer exercising alone or in a group.

Community clubs often have activities you can join in, while there are 26 public swimming pools around the island.

Those who are members of ActiveSG, a national healthy lifestyle movement launched in April 2014, would have received free $100 credit in their accounts they can use to pay for entry to swimming complexes and for admissions to gyms under Sports SG.

To sign up, download the "ActiveSG" app on your smartphone and follow the instructions there.

Once you have ActiveSG membership, you can use the app to book sports facilities such as badminton, squash, tennis, basketball and table tennis courts.

3. Get exercise in small doses


Take the stairs instead of an escalator or elevator. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Exercise does not have to take up a lot of your time. You can do it in the simple ways such as climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift or escalator.

If you live a distance away from the MRT station and that is your main method of commuting, walk home instead of taking a bus for the last mile of travel.

You can even consider cycling to work if there are park connectors and roads that connect you from home.

4. Find an exercise buddy


Get an exercise buddy to help achieve your fitness goals. PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES FILE

It can be easier to stick to your exercise goals with a friend to remind you about them. Try making plans to go jogging or have a game of badminton, for example, with a friend.

If the weather is not in your favour, you can try exercising indoors by following YouTube yoga sessions for example.

Travelling safe


Read up on the country you are going to before you go. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Singaporeans love to travel. As it becomes easier to fly to various countries overseas, it is important to remember how to keep safe.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has previously issued tips for Singaporean travellers on staying safe. 

Some recommendations include e-registering with MFA before you go so you know who to contact in case of emergencies, finding out about the laws of the country you are visiting, and being careful around large gatherings.

If you are planning a road trip, make sure you familiar with the country's driving laws and ensure enough breaks so the driver is alert and does not doze off.

Better still, alternate drivers on long drives.

Being happy


Being out in nature can make a person feel happier. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Happiness is a deeply personal pursuit, but there are some tried-and-tested methods you can try for yourself in order to create conditions conducive to happiness.

The New York Times has pulled together a guide on how to be happy.

Here are some of the recommendations.

1. Start with your mind


Try advising yourself as you would a friend. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Conquer negative thinking by letting the thoughts come and acknowledging them.

If you are feeling down about yourself, ask yourself what advice you would give a friend going through your troubles, and apply that advice.

If you have recurring negative thoughts, try writing them down and challenging them. For example, if you think you are doing badly at work, write down the ways you are not performing well, and the ways you are excelling. Work on improving the situation.

2. Write it down


Writing down your own narrative and reshaping it can help you view yourself in a new light. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Writing in a personal journal daily can boost your well-being and overall happiness.

Additionally, everyone has a personal narrative that they see themselves in. If your narrative is not going the way you envisioned it, try rewriting it literally.

Put down in words what you are struggling with, then write a new story from the viewpoint of a neutral observer, or with the kind of encouragement you would give a friend.

For example, if you are having money problems, write down some financial advice you may give to a friend going through such a situation.

Writing and rewriting your story could help move you out of a negative mindset and into a more positive view of life.

3. Look at your environment


Spend some time in green places. PHOTO: ST FILE

Where you live, work and play has a profound impact on your happiness levels.

On a smaller scale, spending time in nature has been proven to have a positive effect on humans.

It is also good to spend time in natural sunlight instead of being cooped up in air-conditioned offices - natural light exposure can lift the mood.

Singapore has plenty of green places you can explore. The National Parks Board conducts free tours in parks and on trails that you can sign up for on its website

Don't forget our smaller islands too - The Southern Islands include Kusu, St John's, Lazarus, Pulau Hantu and Sisters' Islands.

Pulau Ubin is a great getaway for a day picnic or cycling sojourn.

4. Examine your relationships


The people who surround you have a direct impact on your happiness. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Framingham Heart Study, a study that began in 1948 and that has tracked three generations of participants, suggests that our happiness levels are linked with those of the people around us.

The study drew the following conclusions: A person's happiness depends on the happiness of those with whom they are connected; people who are surrounded by many happy people are more likely to become happy in the future; each additional happy friend increases your chance of happiness by about 9 per cent; and a person's happiness extends to three degrees of separation: It can influence and be influenced by their friends, their friends' friends, and the friends of people who are friends of their friends.

In other words, happiness ripples outward through social networks, so being with happy people can increase your chances of being happy, while being a happy person yourself can bring happiness to those around you and beyond.

SOURCES: Health Promotion Board, MFA, NYTimes, The Straits Times archives