Getting active about keeping our good health

Many of us only start to think about our health after we fall ill, but we should actually actively maintaining our good health from young. — Photos: AFP

Malaysians simply love their food.

When we go out with friends either to celebrate any events or to simply hang out, the first thing we say will be “Let’s try that new restaurant!”.

Eating is the way we socialise in Malaysia.

The numerous festive seasons we have in Malaysia further exacerbates the issue.

The abundance of food laid out on the table paralyses us and we become unable to choose wisely.

Most of the foods we chose are “unhealthy” – they are high in fat, sugar and sodium – and our corresponding intake of fruits and vegetables is severely lacking.

Our preference to eat outside instead of having home-cooked meals also makes it more difficult to choose healthier foods, which are harder to come by when eating out.

Plus, we see physical activity as one of the many options on which to spend our limited leisure time, when in fact, it should be an integral part of our lifestyle.

Instead, the sedentary activity of scrolling and staring at our digital gadgets is the one that has become indispensable to us.

All these unhealthy habits are prevalent in our society and contribute to the high statistics of overweight and obesity in the country.

To make it worse, the younger generation are affected as well.

Most people tend to think about health only after they are afflicted with illness and disease.

Otherwise, they prefer to focus on other priorities in life such as career and family, forgetting that without good health, they would not be able to enjoy a good life with their loved ones.

Fortunately, obesity and the other risk factors of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are preventable.

We can change for the better if we begin to invest our time, money and effort in healthy nutrition and an active lifestyle starting from now!

Investing in healthy nutrition

The Malaysian Food Pyramid is designed to help us eat healthy by showing the recommended daily servings for different food groups. — 123rf.comThe Malaysian Food Pyramid is designed to help us eat healthy by showing the recommended daily servings for different food groups. —

Good health and well-being is a key prerequisite to be able to spend quality time with our loved ones.

It is imperative to take action towards this goal, starting with ourselves, so that we can build happier and healthier families.

The basics of good health are to eat right and be active.

Eating right means that our food consumption is nutritious and balanced, while being active regularly helps maintain our body and control our calorie balance.

The belief that investing in nutrition means taking various health supplements or food tonics, and practising fad diets, is a mistake and myth.

In reality, healthy eating is neither difficult nor expensive; the most important thing is that you are committed to take action!

Here are some guidelines to help you eat healthy:
> Practise balance, moderation and variety (BMV)
These as the three principles of healthy eating.

Balance means that meals should include a balance of different food groups.

Moderation refers to the appropriate serving size, and variety indicates the need for variety in diet to obtain a wider mix of nutrition.

> Refer to the Malaysian Food Pyramid and Healthy Plate

The Malaysian Food Pyramid shows the recommended daily servings for different food groups.

For example, you should have at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits daily.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Healthy Plate advises on the proportion and types of food you should have during each meal, i.e. a quarter portion of your meal should be grains and cereals (like rice or bread), a quarter portion should consist of fish, poultry or legumes, and the remaining half portion should be fruits and vegetables.

These two items will help you to practise the BMV principle.

> Drink plain water

Plain water is the healthier choice, especially compared to carbonated drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

Always make it your drink of choice to accompany your meal and to rehydrate in between meals.

> Opt for healthier cooking methods

Cooking methods such as boiling and steaming, are healthier as less oil is used and the nutritional content is retained.

For example, steamed fish is a much healthier option than deep-fried chicken for dinner.

> Consume more whole grains, veggies and fruits

These food groups are rich in nutrition and should be our main choice when eating.

Gradually increase your intake of whole grains by choosing brown rice and wholegrain bread.

Increase your portion of veggies and fruits in your meals and choose them when you want a snack.

Investing in active living

Between computer work, online meetings or classes, and casual surfing, too many of us are having increased sedentary time, especially during this period of restricted movement.Between computer work, online meetings or classes, and casual surfing, too many of us are having increased sedentary time, especially during this period of restricted movement.

Being active regularly is as important as eating right.

Follow these tips for a physically active life:

> Turn it into a routine

Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine instead of waiting for a space in your schedule.

For example, make time to go jogging at the park every evening after work or arrange a couple of badminton sessions every week with your friends.

> Simple daily acts can also be effective

Being physically active does not only refer to workouts or exercises.

Simple activities like taking a five-minute walk after lunch or doing a three-minute stretch after an hour of sitting also count.

You can also park further from your office entrance, choose to take the stairs instead of lifts or elevators, and walk to further restaurants for lunch.

> Aim for 10,000 steps daily

A daily target will motivate you to be more physically active every day.

Use a pedometer or the step counter on your smartphone or smartwatch to track your progress.

> Go outdoors for family time

Spend your quality time with family on weekends and holidays by enjoying sports or outdoor activities together.

Let your kids play at the playground or play throw-and-catch with them.

Hiking or cycling is also a great family activity.

> Cut down screen time

Excessive screen time means being sedentary, which is bad for your health.

Replace your time online with outdoor activities, and set a limit to your daily screen time.

Create a healthier environment

Investing in health should start from young, and as a parent, you are the first teacher and biggest influencer on your kids.

By practising the principles of healthy eating and active living yourself, you are creating a healthy environment for them, teaching them good nutrition habits that they will progressively adopt as they grow up.

Apart from that, there are several ways to ensure that your kids receive healthy nutrition:

  • Always ensure they have breakfast before going to school.
  • Prepare home-cooked meals for them to bring to school if possible.
  • Involve them when preparing healthy food and teach them how to choose healthier meals or products.
To instil an active lifestyle, encourage your kids to take part in after-school activities that involve physical activity, like soccer or swimming.

On weekends, instead of taking them out to shopping malls, bring them to the park or recreational centre.

NCDs and the related risk factors bring about much suffering to both individuals and their family.

Managing these illnesses incur a significant toll financially, mentally and physically.

The only way forward has to be the prevention of these diseases.

We should empower ourselves by obtaining relevant information from professional and credible sources.

Good health should actively be one of our main priorities, rather than just a vague desire, and we should be persistent and disciplined in practising the principles of healthy nutrition and active lifestyle.

We can guarantee you that investing in health will be the most valuable investment you will ever make in your life!

Dr Tee E Siong is the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM) president and Nutrition Month Malaysia (NMM) chairman. This article is contributed by NMM 2020, which is organised by NSM, the Malaysian Dietitians’ Association (MDA) and the Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity (MASO). NMM's first Virtual Nutrition Fair will be held on Dec 1-14. Those interested can register here.

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