Sunday, December 26, 2021

Training Through This Holiday Season

Picture by Jeffrey Keng on 010119
This is usually my favourite time of the year. The weather is a little cooler from the rain. The international school just down the road from where we live is closed for the year which means little or much less cars along our street. Many of our patients are traveling or visiting families so we see less people in our clinics.  

Handling the extra social meetings, holiday shopping, festivities and of course, the extra eating while keeping your training intact is going to be challenging for many.

Here are some suggestions to keep your training intact if you keep your long term objectives in mind while keeping your expectations realistic.

I would usually have slightly more time to ride in the wee morning hours during the weekdays the last 2 weeks of the year. Not this year after my recent accident. My only time on a bike currently is on the stationary bike. Not that I have a choice, doctor's orders.

If you're a cyclist, early starts are great these 2 weeks since all school kids are on holidays. No need to drive your kids and definitely less morning traffic as well. Get your ride in early and have the rest of the day free for your family or other social engagements. Personally I find riding or running with your group of friends helpful as they help to make sure you turn up.

Whether it is cycling, triathlon or ultra running, consistency is key. You may not be able to fit in that extra long run or bike ride during this period. What matters more is you try to  fit in a session on most days, i.e. cutting overall training time rather than reduce frequency of your sessions. So if you're running an hour most weekdays and 2-3 hours on the weekends, running 30 mins on most weekdays and an hour on the weekend may suffice to keep your running routines, habits and adaptations intact.

Caught this view on my morning run
If some training sessions must be wiped off from your calender, lose the slow, easy aerobic sessions as retaining the intensity is key to maintaining fitness.

Do leave room for days when you really cannot fit any exercise in. Your child or other loved ones may fall sick, your boss may give you no notice for a last minute project or other stuff can happen. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you definitely will not win or lose a race later in the upcoming season by missing a workout in December. There will be many other opportunities to train specifically in the new year. You're only getting ready to train in January. Don't sweat the the fact that you are too busy and distracted to follow the strictest training plan.

When I was still competing, this would be the time when I took 2 weeks off training. No swimming, cycling, running or weights training. Just resting, chilling, time with family, eating etc. I'll be raring to go by the time the new year came round. You may want to take time off to recharge too.

The holiday period definitely brings another layer of complexity if you're still training. However, it also provides a chance to celebrate and connect with traditions and people that matter most to us. Personally, it has given me a chance to be thankful since Covid-19 has delivered more struggles than most of us admit.

We already squeeze our training into our typically demanding schedules and this time of the year provides us a chance to slow down and reflect. Merry Christmas to all our readers.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Monetary Incentives Are The Best

I was amazed when I saw the crowd of people shopping at Orchard Road in today's paper (above) this morning.

Well, at least they are out getting some 'exercise' while buying presents for their loved ones. Are you wondering how to motivate someone to exercise? Well, this week's post does exactly that. And yes, rewards are very important to get people to exercise.

Just like the proverbial dangling of the carrot in front of the donkey,  evidence suggests that monetary rewards plays a big role in motivating one to exercise. 

This mega study involved 61,293 gym members from the American 24 hour Fitness chain, 30 scientists from 15 universities and more than 50 motivational programs.

Incentives include a free audiobook for gym use, cheery instructions from instructors to reframe exercise as fun and reward points under an umbrella program called Step Up. After signing up, these gym members earned Amazon reward points worth US$1 (S$1.36) and new ways to motivate themselves to exercise.

The scientists divided these participants into 53 different groups. Each group had at least 455 participants. In an example group, members earned US$1.75 reward points each time they visited the gym. Other groups shared workouts on social media, signed fitness pledges etc. Each intervention lasted a month.  Of course there was a separate control group that changed nothing about their daily lives or gym time. 

Here are the results. The most successful intervention was giving people US$0.09! Yes, 9 cents worth of reward points if they returned to the gym after missing a planned workout. This increased visit rates by 16 percent compared to just planning in advance and text reminders. Giving participants US$1.75 everytime they worked out was almost as effective, it increased exercise participation by 14 percent.

So as we approach the coming new year with new fitness resolutions, other than planning a reasonable workout schedule, putting the program reminders into our phones or having a spouse/ training buddy, the above findings suggest finding a small way to reward ourselves when we do exercise, works best. Perhaps the shoppers in the above picture were also thinking of buying themselves a present after dealing with Covid-19 for almost 2 years now.

Ministry of Health officials reading this, can we reward participants with some monetary incentive from NTUC with every hour walked or a workout done? That may help with our growing diabetes problem too.

Remember the free fitness trackers given out were highly popular and it motivated people to keep up their daily steps when it was first launched. In fact the latest version of trackers were snapped up quickly as seen in the yesterday's newspaper report (picture above).

What about you? Would a monetary incentive motivate you to workout more regularly? How much would it take before you proceed? Appreciate your comments please.


Milkman KL, Gromet D, Ho H et al (2021). Megastudies Improve The Impact Of Applied Behavioural Science. Nature. 600: 478-483. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04124-4

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Don't Feel Like Eating After A Workout?

This was in Oct 2018
Before my recent accident, most Saturday mornings before work, I made time to ride my bike. It's my longest exercise session for the week. Sometimes, distances in excess of 100 km would be covered.

105 km before work
Most of the time after the ride I'm starving, except when our group rode a lot harder and faster under hot conditions. Then my appetite would be blunted, I would normally just prefer an ice cold drink rather than eating.

Evidence regarding this has been mixed. Some studies show that prolonged and strenuous exercise tends to blunt one's appetite, sometimes for hours or even into the next day. Other studies suggest the opposite, finding that some people feel hungrier after workouts of any kind and quickly eat the calories they expended and continue to eat more at the next meal.

Consider the following study. Participants in this weight loss study did not feel like eating after running or strength training. The physical activity prevented them from overeating. But it was not the strenuous exercise that blunted their appetites.

In that study, 130 participants (between 18 to 70) were asked to exercise for one year. Other than light physical activity, the fitness program also had moderate to vigorous physical activities of up to 250 minutes a week. Each of them wore a fitness tracker and was given a daily calorie goal based on their body mass index (BMI).

Results showed that when the participants did not exercise, they were 12 percent more likely to overeat (or exceed their daily calorie goal). However, when the participants exercised for 60 mins, their risk of overeating was lessened to 5 percent. For every extra 10 minutes of exercise after 60 minutes, the chances the participants would overeat dropped by a further 1 percent. 

To my surprise and the surprise of the researchers, light physical activity (walking at a slow leisurely pace) showed the strongest effects against overeating compared to moderate (brisk walk) to vigorous physical activity (running or strenuous fitness class).

The researchers explained that exercise causes peptide YY, a hormone which suppresses appetite to spike, while causing grehlin (which stimulates appetite) to drop. This led to the participants not feeling hungry after exercise.

Another possible reason is that exercise boosts mood and self esteem, which may improve one's motivation not to overeat.

Also note that participants in the study had participants with BMI values between 27 to 50 (overweight or obese) and they were looking to lose weight. What they perceived as moderate physical activities may be different to what you and I may perceive.

For most of us, exercise can affect our hunger and weight in unexpected and contradictory ways. So during this holiday season, do not worry that if you exercise you will overeat. A short period of indulgence should not affect your weight in the long term if you exercise regularly .


CrochiereRJ, Kerrigan SG, Lampe EW et al (2020). Is Physical Activity A Risk Or A protective Factor For Subsequent Dietary Lapses Among Behavioral Weight Loss Participants? Health Pysch 39(3): 240-244. DOI: 10.1037/hea0000839.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

How Long Do You Sit For?

When I first read this article, I could not imagine sitting for 4.5 hours at a stretch. Even with my recent accident, I did not sit longer than an hour. But then, I recall that it's fairly normal according to what my patients tell me, especially with most people who still work from home (WFH).  

Many patients tell me that with WFH, they end up sitting for hours at a go. We know that prolonged sitting is the new smoking, that prolonged sitting without regular movement may lead to low back pain, other musculoskeletal problems and other lifestyle diseases.

Back to what I read. Participants in that study sat for 4.5 hours in a controlled environment (see picture above) while researchers investigated how the participants fared with regular muscle contractions on muscle stiffness. These participants had neuromuscular electrical stimulation applied to the lumbar region of their back to simulate movement.

The results showed that prolonged sitting without regular movement significantly increase stiffness in our back muscles. This may explain why prolonged periods of chair sitting increase chances of low back pain. There was no mention that poor posture or slouching contributed to this.

The good news is that with regular movement (through regular muscle contractions), stiffness in your lower back can be prevented.

The researchers concluded that it is important that we move regularly and consistently throughout the day. 

If I had to be sitting in front of a computer, I will get up and move around as often as I can. Otherwise, I will do so with one or two trigger balls at my low back area (see picture right at the top) since it reminds me to move more frequently.


Kerr AR, Milani TL and Sichting F (2021). Sitting For Too Long, Moving Too Little: Regular Muscle Contractions Can Reduce Muscle Stiffness During Prolonged Periods of Chair-sitting. Front Sp Act Living. 03 Nov 2021. DOI: 10.3389/fspo.2021.760533