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Here's to a healthier 2020

Instead of making ambitious resolutions unlikely to take off, try achieving simpler goals to live healthily

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Joyce Teo on 30 Dec 2019

The Straits Times

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The start of the new year seems like the best time to set goals even though most people fail to keep them.

 

So instead of setting overly ambitious life-changing resolutions, consider small ones on how to live better and healthier in mind and body. Here are a few ideas.

 

FIND YOUR MEANING IN LIFE

 

A three-year study published online in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry earlier this month found that the search for and presence of meaning in life are important for health and well-being.

 

Many people think about the meaning in life from a philosophical perspective, but it is actually associated with better health, wellness and perhaps longevity, said the study's senior author Dilip V. Jeste. He is senior associate dean for the Center for Healthy Aging and distinguished professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

 

"When you are young, like in your 20s, you are unsure about your career, a life partner and who you are as a person. You are searching for meaning in life," said Prof Jeste, in a report by the university.

 

"As you start to get into your 30s, 40s and 50s, you have more established relationships, maybe you are married and have a family and you're settled in a career. The search decreases and the meaning in life increases."

 

Things then change after age 60 when people retire and start to lose their identity.

 

"They start to develop health issues and some of their friends and family begin to pass away. They start searching for meaning in life again because the meaning they once had has changed," he said.

 

Dr Grace Soo, a senior clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in Singapore, said everyone needs to have some meaning in life.

 

"So much of pop culture revolves around discovering this meaning in life: finding one's life partner, bringing up children, saving lives, making art and solving mysteries of the universe."

 

Others find their meaning in religion, their work or in making a difference in someone's life.

 

What is important is to make sure that your meaning in life is your own, Dr Soo said. "Oftentimes, we simply adopt what we think is acceptable or expected of us."

 

If you are looking for your meaning in life, spend some time to notice what you really care about and talk about, she said.

 

For instance, you may realise that you cannot stop talking about someone you fell in love with. Or look at your photographs, most important relationships, most sacred beliefs, bucket list and interests, she suggested.

 

HAVE A CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH

 

Talk about it and break the shame that surrounds the topic.

 

Awareness of mental illness may have grown, but not necessarily the understanding of it.

 

Anyone can be susceptible to a mental-health problem, but many continue to discriminate against those who have mental illness.

 

Numerous campaigns have sprung up to address this, including Time To Change, a British initiative to end mental-health discrimination, and Singapore's Beyond The Label, which was launched more than a year ago.

 

IMH's Dr Soo said one should treat mental health the same way as one would one's physical health, without feeling guilty for being ill and taking good care of it.

 

If you agree that seeing the doctor when you have a fever and cold that will not go away is a fair way of caring for your health, then see it as equally reasonable to seek professional support when your mental health is persistently shaky and affecting your life, Dr Soo said.

 

If people respond with understanding and compassion towards a person with any physical medical conditions, likewise, they need to extend that same understanding and compassion towards people with mental illness, she said.

 

"Simply respecting that mental health is our health can already make a significant contribution to our own and other people's wellbeing."

 

SAY YES TO EXERCISE

 

Maintaining a regular fitness routine requires discipline, but listen to your body when doing so.

 

If you feel very sick, you should not exercise, but a mild illness need not stop you from doing so.

 

It is important to acknowledge how you are feeling, whether you are fatigued, feverish or more incapacitated, said Dr Dinesh Sirisena, a consultant in sports medicine at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

 

If the infection has not affected you too badly, you could consider light aerobic exercises such as walking or low-resistance cycling on an exercise bike, he said.

 

If you are not experiencing myalgia (muscle ache), you could try light resistance work or yoga to maintain body flexibility.

 

To prevent the spread of disease, wear a mask, wipe down gym equipment after use, use tissues when sneezing or blowing your nose and dispose of them in a bin and avoid the sharing of personal items such as water bottles or towels, said Dr Sirisena.

 

"Most importantly, simple hand washing is extremely effective at limiting the spread of most diseases.

 

"This is something that is actively advocated in the hospital setting and can be easily transferred to the gym or public setting."

 

SAY NO TO MEAT ONCE A WEEK

 

People think they should make grand plans to totally avoid deep-fried foods, cakes and sugary drinks, but they struggle to either do it or to keep doing it.

 

If there is one tip that Ms Sarah Sinaram, head of Mount Alvernia Hospital's nutrition and dietetics department, wants to offer, it is this: "Choose one day of the week to go vegetarian."

 

"Meatless Monday is a global movement that encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays - to improve health and protect the environment," she said.

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

 

 

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