Monday 27 October 2014

Exercise for free at malls

You can go shopping and get a workout too with free fitness classes held in shopping centres
By Benson Ang, The Sunday Times, 26 Oct 2014

On Monday, Ms Evelyn Lee, 77, goes for a pulsating kickboxing session at The Star Vista in Buona Vista.

On Tuesday, the retiree heads to either Lot One Shoppers' Mall in Choa Chu Kang or IMM Building in Jurong for KpopX fitness, aerobics incorporating K-pop moves.

And on Friday, the fitness enthusiast, who lives in Choa Chu Kang, busts out more K-pop moves at JCube in Jurong or Junction 8 in Bishan.

And these exercise classes do not cost her a cent.

She says: "I don't need a gym membership and seldom attend classes at the community club. I can exercise at the mall for free."

Yes, these days, it is possible to get workouts at the malls every day of the week.

Since 2010, the Health Promotion Board has been working with shopping centres to organise exercise sessions.

These activities, aimed at making exercise more accessible to the masses, are led by professional instructors.

Most are paid for by the board or the malls, but they declined to reveal cost figures.

At least 12 malls, mostly in the heartland, now offer such activities regularly, and more than 13,000 people have participated in them.

The sessions, which are mostly an hour long, include mall walks and aerobic activities such as zumba, kickboxing and KpopX fitness.

For example, a KpopX fitness session at Lot One on the first and last Tuesday of the month typically consists of 14 songs - a warm-up song, 12 songs for an intense workout and a cool-down song.

Says freelance instructor Suzanne Kuo, 25, who was engaged by interior design and events company Cityneon: "These exercises can benefit one's health, such as improve energy levels and mental alertness and reduce the risk of chronic diseases."

There are also yoga sessions, such as the ones held on Thursday at The Star Vista, organised by the mall in collaboration with yoga studio Meraki Yoga.

At the studio itself, a similar session could cost $17 to $43.

Says yoga instructor Jacqueline Soon, 29: "When doing yoga, it's important for each participant to focus internally.

"There might be music playing from the shops or people staring at you. But if you focus on your breathing and poses, it's easy to block out all the surrounding noise."

Yoga participant Jolin Liu, 23, a student, agrees: "It's sometimes easy to get distracted when doing yoga in a mall. But I remind myself to concentrate.

"After all, it's just for one hour and I can do what I want afterwards."

Those who prefer less rigorous exercises can go for mall walks, during which an instructor leads participants to walk briskly around a mall before the shops open for business.

These typically start with 10 minutes of stretching, a 1km walk around the mall, and then 10 minutes of cool down.

Says instructor Stephanie Tan, 26, who conducts mall walks: "The exercise is of moderate intensity. It should increase your heart rate and make you breathe deeply. You should still be able to talk, but not sing."

The Health Promotion Board recommends that adults and seniors engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling and swimming.

Indeed, part-time library assistant Tan Thor Kee, 58, lost 2kg in two months when she started going for the walks three years ago.

"After the walks, I sleep better, feel more energetic and don't feel as tired when climbing stairs," she says.

"I've participated in other walking activities in the park or around my neighbourhood. But whenever it rains, everyone will dash for shelter. This doesn't happen during mall walks as they are conducted in a sheltered area."

As malls are usually near MRT stations, they are easily accessible to many of the participants.

Says IT officer Wendy Goh, 37, who attends about four exercise sessions every week: "After work, before each session, I'll change into my sports shoes and outfit in the mall toilet.

"After the session, I'll go home in my workout attire. It doesn't feel uncomfortable since the mall and trains are air-conditioned."

The activities have been well received by participants and attendance has been very encouraging, notes Dr Shyamala Thilagaratnam, director of the Health Promotion Board's preventive health programmes and regional and community health divisions.

Since the activities were introduced in 2010, the number of participants has increased by 40 per cent each month on average.

At some venues, up to 60 people - including working adults, seniors and youth - show up regularly.

Dr Thilagaratnam notes that people were attracted to the malls' facilities and their locations near homes and offices.

The Health Promotion Board says it is looking to partner more malls in the future.

Of all the participating malls, The Star Vista seems to organise the most number of regular exercise sessions - four a week - including kickboxing, yoga, zumba as well as a zumba and gym session for parents and kids.

These take place at its open-air Star Plaza, which has a 33m-high ceiling.

Ms Sherry Lee, 29, whose workplace is just one MRT station away, attends zumba sessions there every Tuesday evening.

After the sessions, it takes her just 30 minutes to get home, which is three MRT stations away.

Says the health-care worker: "It's more convenient than going to a big gym in town.

"Working out in a big group is more fun than in a small class. When you are surrounded by people, the atmosphere is very lively and you can really feel the adrenaline.

"Before you know it, one hour has breezed by."

About 90 per cent of the participants are women. But that is not stopping men such as Mr Tan Jun Ren, 24, from joining the free exercise sessions.

The student, who lives along Holland Road, has been attending kickboxing and zumba sessions at The Star Vista for the last three months.

"Many of my male friends don't want to come because they think that the exercises such as yoga and zumba are for women," he says.

"But the sessions are good exercise, free and just a 15-minute walk from my flat. It'd be silly of me not to go."

More ways to join battle of the bulge
Check your weight at kiosks islandwide, start a team with friends; join in at the office too
By Samantha BohThe Sunday Times, 26 Oct 2014

After helping at least 6,000 people lose a total of 20,000kg in six months, a nationwide campaign to get Singaporeans to shed the extra flab is bulking up.

The One Million Kg Challenge is expanding its publicity campaign and will place at least 70 more weigh-in stations at Guardian pharmacy outlets islandwide by January.

This will make it easier for people to track their weight under the programme. There are just 10 such kiosks now.

"The visibility of the kiosks islandwide will also serve as a reminder to Singapore residents to sign up and stay on the weight-loss journey," said Mr Zee Yoong Kang, chief executive of the Health Promotion Board (HPB), which launched the scheme in March.

Since then, more than 80,000 people have signed up, almost 60 per cent of whom were overweight. About half pledged to lose weight, and around 6,000 checked their weight regularly at kiosks.

The next phase of the campaign will encourage people to sign up in teams of three to four, and individuals can get a buddy to help keep them on track. Employers can also ride on the campaign to run similar activities for their workers, encouraging colleagues to come together to support each other to keep healthy.

The new plans were announced yesterday at the HDB Hub during the launch of the second season of the challenge.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the guest of honour, joined in an Indian bhangra dance before touring booths promoting healthy living.

Ten finalists - randomly chosen from among those who lost at least 3kg in the first season - took part in a draw. The top prize of a Suzuki Swift car went to 44-year-old engineer Ting Yit Lai.

Prizes for season two include travel vouchers and a yacht experience.

The challenge is Singapore's first national programme which offers freebies and prizes to encourage people to lose weight and is part of an ongoing battle against obesity, which is on the rise.

According to the last National Health Survey in 2010, 11 per cent of Singaporean adults aged between 18 and 69 were obese compared to 7 per cent in 2004.

Obesity increases a person's risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

In 2010, one million Singaporeans who were outside their healthy weight range for their height were already either pre-diabetic or suffered at least one or more chronic health conditions.

Research led by the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health has forecast that, by 2050, one in nearly six people here will be obese.

The paper also suggests that if this goes unchecked, one in two Singaporeans in 2050 will face the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes.

To nip diabetes in the bud, the HPB plans to start an intervention programme which targets an estimated 14.4 per cent of Singaporeans who have pre-diabetes.

Those with the condition have blood sugar levels that are above normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Evidence has shown that the progression of pre-diabetes to diabetes can be slowed or stopped with changes in both diet and physical activity.

A 12-week pilot of the "pre-diabetes" intervention programme is expected to start in December, according to quotation documents.

It will include structured exercise programmes, with participants also taught to exercise on their own at their workplace.

Dr Beng Teck Liang, chief executive of the Singapore Medical Group, told The Sunday Times that, in a country facing rising obesity levels and an ageing population, it is important to focus on preventive measures, especially among those pre-disposed to chronic conditions.

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