Article An expert shares tips on maintaining an exercise programme


Well-Known Member
4 Jul 2011
By now, most of us would have had the benefits of exercise drummed into our heads.

It keeps us toned, improves our heart and lung function, and reduces risk of premature death, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers and Type 2 diabetes. Exercise also has emotional benefits such as improving our overall well-being and decreasing feelings of anxiety and depression.

So why aren't most of us getting off the couch and onto our feet?

Findings from the recent 2010 National Health Survey found that 40 per cent of Singaporeans do not exercise enough. About one in 10 Singaporeans are obese.

That is why last month, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) launched the National Physical Activity Guidelines to urge Singapore adults to aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week to reap substantial health benefits.

Previous guidelines for those 19 years and above advocate 30 minutes of physical activity per day, for five or more days in a week. The new guidelines now recommend a total holistic approach to physical activity advocating physical activity "anytime, anywhere" whether at work or home, while commuting or during leisure time.

Singapore General Hospital's senior physiotherapist Ng Deng Peng said that while many people start off an exercise programme with good intentions, they are unable to maintain and sustain it.

"They start (exercising), expecting to see results after the first few sessions. When they don't, they become unmotivated," she said.

Deng Peng offered seven golden rules on how to start and stay on a regular, long-term fitness routine.

1. Ask yourself: What is my fitness goal?

A common mistake people make is not having clear goals, said Deng Peng. You have to be clear about your purpose of exercising? Are you exercising to improve your overall health, become fitter or lose weight?

"If you're exercising simply to reap health benefits, HPB's 150 minutes per week recommendation would be sufficient. However, if your goal is to lose weight, 150 minutes of low to moderate intensity physical activity may not be sufficient. You might have to increase the intensity, frequency and change your diet too," she said.

2. Consider getting your fitness level tested before starting an exercise programme.

While it may not be necessary to do so if you're simply doing light exercises like walking, Deng Peng said a fitness assessment (story opposite) is a safe and effective start to any exercise programme.

3. Aerobic/cardio exercises are not enough.

Factor in strength or weight training exercises in between cardio workouts.

Deng Peng explained why weight training is just as important: "Aerobic exercises impact the limbs. People always think that weight training is for building up muscles but they actually help to protect you from injuries too."

4. Are you working your heart rate hard enough?

Many people tend to under-exercise, said Deng Peng. She added that the heart will not get the benefit of exercise if you do not work it intensively enough.

An easy way to monitor the intensity of your workout is to use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale - zero to three being low intensity activities such as walking, and 10 being high-intensity activities that leave you breathless.

"The recommended RPE range during exercise is between 4 and 6. At this range, you will be panting but still be able to complete a sentence," said Deng Peng.

Deng Peng added that each workout should last at least 30 mins. "A continuous workout, during which you work your heart rate upwards, will burn more calories than intermittent ones," she explained.

5. Respect your body.

Take it slow at first, and then slowly build up the intensity and frequency of your workouts, advised Deng Peng. This is especially if you've just recovered from a bout of flu or cold, or stopped exercising for a period of time.

6. Frenzied weekend workouts don't count.

Even if you meet your entire recommended exercise quota over the weekend, Deng Peng does not encourage such exercise routines. "To get the health benefits of exercise, you have to do it regularly over the week," she explained.

7. Stick to your routine.

It may be tough at first and your muscles may ache, especially if you've been sedentary for so long. However, if you keep up at it, you'll see the light at the end of tunnel.

"It gets easier after the initial weeks. Many people who successfully maintain a regular exercise routine tell me that they feel that they can breathe better, don't get breathless so easily and a general sense of well-being," she said.

by Eveline Gan

TODAYonline | Health | How not to botch your fitness routine