How can the Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) community develop an effective exercising culture beyond exercising their fingers on the keyboards? Many NP students have neglected healthy living – overlooking the importance of exercising and a proper diet.
A report by the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, revealed that 244 Singaporean youths aged 12 to 15 were physically inactive for a majority of their time. In this study, motion sensors were attached to the students’ hips. No one met the national guideline of clocking in at least an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day.
In an online survey conducted by npTribune, with 303 respondents from NP, 33 per cent said that they did not exercise in the past two months. Past research on physical activity among youths relied largely on self-reported engagement in it. Persuasive evidence has shown that adolescents over-reported physical activity engagement compared to when objective motion sensors were used. This could mean the number of NP students not engaged in an active lifestyle could be alarmingly larger than the 33 per cent.
A check with 33 sports co-curricular activities (CCAs) in NP indicated an increase in signup numbers for only eight of them.
A whopping 88.5 per cent of the respondents who said they did not exercise cited reasons such as laziness and lack of time due to school work. The remaining respondents felt the time could be better spent on sleeping as exercising was not their top priority. Some also claimed they had good BMI (Body Mass Index).
Another worry that surfaced was students being overly dependent on their technological devices. Lee Chun Wein, 18, a second-year Molecular Biotechnology student, expresses his opinion on the current situation.
“It’s the technology era. Everybody is addicted to computers and phones. They spend their whole time there [so] they don’t consider outdoor activities,” he says.
Negative attitude and poor lifestyle choices could be why in 2010, approximately 6,000 or 10.8 per cent of youths aged 18 were already obese when they entered adulthood. This was based on the National Health Survey, which is conducted once every six years. This was a huge jump from 1998, where the figure was 2,500 or 6 per cent of the youths.
Semester-long Sports & Wellness (S&W) lessons in NP are dedicated to most freshmen. Chun Wein says, “People see S&W as a compulsory thing. If you force someone to exercise, they will not enjoy it. But if you try to lure them into sports, then they will find interest in something they like and from there, they can progress to make it their daily activity.”
He suggested that S&W could comprise a different sport per lesson. This diversification can expose students to more sports, which will hopefully spark their interest in at least one. Chun Wein himself engages in many sports, such as dancing, golfing, swimming, running, and he heads to the gym on a regular basis.
A general goal the average youth should aim to fulfill is exercising about 30 minutes every day, according to the Mayo Clinic. They can certainly do more to achieve a certain weight or fitness goal.
Another aspect of healthy living that is not satisfied by NP students is to have a proper diet. Many students know the importance of a balanced diet but not many realise the impact food can have on their bodies.
Elson Tan Wei Hao, 19, a third-year Veterinary Bioscience student explains, “Like the old saying goes, ‘You are what you eat’ and if you think of it, we are made up of food. Whatever we take in is going to affect us.”
A compilation of some diets undertaken by Chun Wein, Elson and Soon Jian Heng, three student athletes in NP who are still actively involved in keeping their bodies in tip-top condition, reveals a common trend. They prepare, cook or pack their own food most of the time. Their eating habits include the paleo diet, carb cycling, low-carbohydrate diet and intermittent fasting.
Elson lists the benefits of making his own nutritious meals, “It’s cheaper than eating out. You know what’s going into your food.”
Eating junk food, like chips, from time to time is fine by the three sporty dudes. Elson says in between bursts of laughter, “It’s okay to incorporate some dirty food into your diet cause ‘YOLO’, you only live once, and it’s okay because it won’t affect you. If you were to hold back, eventually you’d crave for these foods and you’d just binge on them.” Flexibility is key.
Fried food can be prepared in a slightly healthier manner by “airfrying”, which requires less oil. An airfryer works by “using a grill and fan to blast superheated air around food at high speed, cooking it from all sides”, according to The Daily Mail.
The paleo diet includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, fish and grass-fed meat. Dairy, grains, potatoes, legumes, processed food, salt, refined vegetable oils, refined sugar and alcohol should not be consumed. This eating practice boasted a risk-reduction of illnesses like heart diseases but one drawback was the cost of maintaining it.
As for a low-carbohydrate diet, Chun Wein and Jian Heng are on board this special course. Although it helps people lose weight, a myth that must be dispelled is that this diet advocates a complete cut from carbohydrates. That is not true.
Jian Heng, 19, is a final-year Business Studies student who also holds a leadership role in Dragon Boat. He cuts down his intake of carbohydrates after a certain time, at about 7pm, “Carbs give you a lot of energy but without working out enough, carbs will stay there and be converted into fats. I will have just enough for the gym session on that day.”
Chun Wein cautions, “Sometimes you feel kind of burnt out [if you don’t have adequate carbohydrates].”
Elson describes intermittent fasting as an eating pattern where you “do not eat for 16 hours”. It can be done every single day but if you want to fast for 24 hours, once a week will do. Fasting claims to aid weight loss and prevent diseases. The U.S. News states that when we intermittently fast, “we’re fooling our bodies into thinking we may be experiencing a famine, in which case the body switches into maintenance mode and burns energy from fat stores”. For sufferers of hypoglycemia, where there is a deficiency of glucose in the bloodstream, Elson advises against this idea.
Ultimately, health should be more than sufficient a reason to motivate you to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“The motive is not to impress people. It’s more for yourself. You exercise because it helps you in your life not only physically, but mentally. It feels great to be healthy,” quips Elson.
Jian Heng concurs, “It’s impossible to get 100 per cent on board [to exercise and eat healthily]. People must see the benefits. Some of them may feel, ‘I’m not fat.’ Yes, it’s true you’re not fat but are you able to do your 2.4km [run, and do] pull-ups? If something were to happen, would you be physically able for any challenges?”
As Mr Lex Tan, 26, a bodybuilder and director of Xtreme @ Gold’s Gym, puts it, “Exercising is optional but it’s a great investment to health and fitness.”