IT’S a storyline some are all too familiar with, whether on a personal level or if we’ve witnessed it unfold in a friend. Fitness trainer and Managing Director of fitness network One Active Space Chia Geok Koon – who is also an instructor in Health Promotion Board’s i-Run programme – paints the scenario he finds common these days:
Very fit guy, in early adulthood, is very physically active and builds a prodigious appetite. Said person lands a cushy, deskbound job and doesn’t walk much during office hours. He gets his due in promotions, but heavier responsibilities mean he starts dropping gym time. In pockets at first, then entire weeks. Even in the gym he may be unable to put the phone down. Through it all, his metabolism slows, but he’s eating as much – if not more – than he used to, often servicing the boredom with hearty lunches and trips to the pantry.
No prizes for figuring out the latter half of the story. Aside from the inconvenience and cost of having to fill out a new wardrobe, immense weight gain brings with it a host of health risks. The spectre of cardiovascular-related diseases (heart attack and stroke) is not a pretty one to have hanging over your head; in 2017 alone, 31.5% of deaths of males in Singapore were caused by one of these. (Figures: Singapore Heart Foundation.)
Even those who are physically active after hours aren’t off the hook, says Chia. The sedentary life is highly likely to induce postural problems, owing to a hunched position over the course of a work day. This results in frequent backaches and neckaches, and opens stiff or underutilised muscle groups up to accidents such as sprains and tears.
The quick solution
The bright side, however, is that stemming the flow and turning the tide is an easier task than it sounds. Beginning a visible bodily transformation is as simple as aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activities (MVPA) per week. This could mean taking up a fitness class two to three times a week, or simply getting 30 minutes of accelerated heart rate per day. But outside of exploring hundreds of free options provided by the Health Promotion Board, are there ways of working such activities into everyday life?
Certainly, says Chia. “In the context of office workers, they can simply do stair climbs (instead of taking the lift).” Chia also recommends a simple, effective exercise that’s perfect for those with their own office room.
“It’s widely known as the ‘100-Up’,” Chia says. “You know, you’re in the army – it’s like the hentak kaki.” He demonstrates the manoeuvre immediately – it’s essentially marching on the spot, with the legs (and alternate arms) raised to 90-degree holds.
“Just do a hundred of these – one cycle counts as one. That’s where it gets its name from,” shares Chia. “This simple movement activates the core, the hip flexors, and works all the extensions. One set per day is enough – but focus on landing lightly.”
Those with gym access can also consider the kettlebell swing – mistakenly perceived as an arms-only exercise, when properly done, it involves a great many muscle groups.
Get off to a running start
Another great way to kickstart your #MoveIt150 journey is by setting an achievable goal and training for it – for example, you could sign up for a short, stress-free 5km run, then spend the prior weeks training towards clocking a time of your choosing. Chia finds that five clicks is a great distance to start with for someone who hasn’t had done vigorous exercise for a while.
One such upcoming run is the new 5km variant of the 2018 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, for which HPB’s National Steps Challenge™ is the proud title partner. (Shoutout: Those who join National Steps Challenge™ Season 4 will be entitled to sign up for the race at an exclusive rate. More info here. )
Committing to a fixed date lets you map out training days and keeps you on track, especially if you’ve signed up for the run with friends. Both treadmill and pavement running are suitable for such distances, Chia says. He dispenses six great tips for those undertaking this venture.
CHIA’S TIPS TO CONQUERING THE FIRST KILOMETERS
01: It’s critical to adjust your stride
In the face of the great distance ahead, many beginners react by artificially extending their stride length, often equating greater strides with faster speed. This is the opposite of what they should be doing.
“Shorten your stride, but quicken your pace,” says Chia. “Overstriding makes it harder to control of how you land on your foot, (and makes you) particularly injury-prone – especially for those who are overweight.”
02: Don’t eat any differently
Whether it’s over the course of your marathon prep or right before the big day, don’t modify your diet in an attempt to improve your performance. Your metabolism will increase naturally and begin to turn dividends in the department of fat burn. “(Practices like) carb loading are only for races beyond 2 hours,” says Chia, who also advises against supplements like power gel.
You could, however, consume a drink like Milo in the mornings to kickstart your day. “Sleep depletes a lot of energy and sugar, so some glucose intake is good to replenish that.”
03: Get the right gear, and get it early
Race day is the worst time to try something new. You should be running in attire you’re comfortable in and familiar with – this boils down to even the socks you wear, says Chia. For footwear, he recommends a pair of fitting, proper running shoes – some participants try to get away with wearing sneakers, which are more likely to lead to injuries. That said, he warns, one should practice proper landing techniques instead of letting the shoes absorb the shock.
“Running shoes can provide a false sense of security; some people tend to land on the heel,” says Chia. Not only is this bad for the knees and hips, but it is, in effect, vastly slowing down your forward momentum, leading to very inefficient and injurious runs.
04: Race day hacks
The combination of ear-shattering airhorns and the floodgates opening may be exhilarating, but often this spurs new runners to start at an unrealistic pace, only to quickly wear out before much of the race is done. “Start slow to go fast” is one of Chia’s favourite mantras – let the crowd thin out while you run at your own pace. Much of the race, after all, says Chia, is overtaking those who getfatigued too early.
Chia also recommends finding something to focus on throughout the run to keep the mind occupied. (Our take: it’s those thoughts of waving the flag and slowing to a walk that you want to block out.) The two best candidates? Rhythm of your breathing, or the swing of your arms. Regulating both also happens to be crucial to maintaining an ideal pace, so keeping tabs on them is a trick to coming out ahead.
05: Manage your expectations
One’s first marathon will be far more beneficial if you go in with the right frame of mind, says Chia. Instead of seeing the event as an end-game, try perceiving it instead as a great start to a new hobby. As such, set reasonable expectations for both your progress while training for the event, and do not obsess over clocking a certain timing. “You are only actually racing with yourself.”
06: Chart and continue your journey
Working runs into your weekly routine, even after concluding your first marathon, is one of the best tickets to a healthy lifestyle. As you tackle longer distances and your body gradually adapts to handle the mounting challenges, it’s great to have qualified professionals guide you on the finer points and technique. Essentially, you want a running equivalent of a personal gym trainer. HPB’s i-Run programme offers all of that at absolutely no cost – and it takes you past convenient and scenic routes such as Gardens by The Bay and Labrador Park.
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