by every definition.

Exercise: Doing it in no time

Everyone knows that exercising regularly is the key to keeping a healthy lifestyle. As straightforward as that is, many Singaporeans are still not motivated to include physical exercises into their daily routines. For instance, in the 2010 National Health Survey, it concluded that nearly six out of every 10 Singaporeans do not participate in physical exercise even during their leisure time. But why is this so?

Let me give you an illustration of what many people face in their working lives.

Mr John Tan, the father of two children, works at a 9-to-5 office job. After a long day at work, John realises that he has an even longer night ahead of him at home, with commitments like putting his kids to bed and finishing up miscellaneous tasks. After finishing what he needs to do, John chooses to forgo exercising because he feels like exercising takes up too much of his time, which could be spent unwinding in front of the television or relaxing.

Photo Credit: Lewis Kelly

Photo Credit: Lewis Kelly

Does this sound familiar to you? I am sure this is something that many of us can relate to. We want to be healthy and maintain our physique, but feel like the only way for this to happen is to somehow extend the 24 hours of our day. There are simply too many commitments, and between work, family and friends, exercising is just not one of our top priorities.

Well, for time-starved people out there, there’s good news. Gone are the days of spending hours in the gym, walking on the treadmill and working out on weight machines. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has recently come into popularity, and has been lauded as an efficient and effective workout. HIIT regimes are designed to hit your optimal heart rate without taking more than 20 minutes of your time.


Photo Credit: Caro Bizarra

Photo Credit: Caro Bizarra

Some of the activities in HIIT workouts include jumping jacks and running. But how are these HIIT workout exercises different from the regular exercises? If so, which is better? I asked Ms Sharon Wang, Senior Physiotherapist at Sengkang Health to find out.

Is it recommendable to alternate HIIT workouts and weights training on different days of the week?
"It really depends on the objective of the exercise session – weight loss, build muscle mass or just to try a new form of physical activity for maintenance.

According to guidelines by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), weights training should take place 2-3x/week and the intensity in which one should exercise at also depends on their general level of physical activity.

At the end of the day, it is for one to discover what drives them and keep them motivated to continue exercising."

- Sharon, Senior Physiotherapist
Are we more prone to injuries as a result of the high intensity workouts of HIIT?

The risk of injury with engaging in all forms of physical activity is similar as it all depends on the technique and execution. Poor techniques and body awareness in space naturally predisposes one to injuries due compensatory mechanisms and unnecessary loading to other structures.

- Sharon, Senior Physiotherapist

HIIT where, what, how?

Photo Credit: Keifit

Photo Credit: Keifit

Some of you must be thinking: where can I carry out HIIT exercises? After all, the whole point is being able to save time while working out effectively. Having to trudge to a gym may defeat the whole purpose.

Not to worry: entire HIIT workout exercises such as jumping jacks, running and squats, can be executed at home. Not only does this save you a huge amount of time spent working out, HIIT workout routines can also be easily modified for people of various fitness levels and special conditions such as obesity and diabetes, in line with your doctor’s recommendation.

According to the Carl Foster publication in Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, HIIT has been proven to be more effective than steady state exercises in fat loss for both men and women. In general, HIIT workouts are targeted at maximising results from the minimal amount of time spent on the highly intensive sets of exercises.  

Moreover, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has released statistics indicating that in 2015, the number of senior citizens aged 50 and above participating in trendy, high-energy workouts has increased by 10 per cent. Hence, HIIT workouts can be easily customised to fit your needs, whether you’re 15 or more than 50.

Photo Credit: Johnny Deff

Photo Credit: Johnny Deff

There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed through making lifestyle choices such as having a well-balanced and healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise. Regarding the latter, HIIT workouts may be an attractive alternative for some who find it difficult to get involved with typical fitness regimes regularly. In addition, the global diabetes community has stated that HIIT workouts have been proven to be particularly beneficial for people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, owing to the flexible and accommodating nature of the workout. A study conducted by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), concluded that HIIT exercises have generally resulted in improvement in these people’s insulin resistance and decreased in blood glucose. Nonetheless, it is strongly recommended for people with type 2 diabetes to consult the doctor on the suitability of HIIT exercises for their bodies.

HIIT workouts are high intensive in nature. Is there any ways to keep people who are engaging in HIIT to be motivated to complete the intended workouts?

"The idea of HIIT is to not work at your maximal intensity all the time. The beauty of it is that it is self-regulatory and self-paced within the session. There is no fixed module to HIIT, therefore it is also fun to design the routine for the day so that you do not get bored of doing the same exercises. Exercising with a partner may also be useful – provide encouragement for each other to keep going or even to perform partner exercises which can be fun too!"

- Sharon, Senior Physiotherapist

Precautions before trying HIIT

Photo Credit: Jill DiGiovanni

Photo Credit: Jill DiGiovanni

However, due to the exhaustive nature of HIIT workouts, it is recommended for beginners to consult a doctor to see if their bodies are suitable for such intensive exercises. One may use a “Physical Activity Rediness Questionnaire” (PAR-Q) to access if he or she is suitable or HIIT workouts. If you have a previous injury, speaking to a Physiotherapist if you want to embark on a HIIT program is recommended.

Individuals can choose to progressively increase the number of weekly workout counts, which is fully dependent on their own bodies’ adaptive abilities. However, it is recommended that these workouts should be conducted at a pace for the users and they should cease the workout should they feel any discomfort in the midst of the exercises.

Therefore, with the inclusion of HIIT workouts into your lifestyles, it will definitely play a significant role in bringing your body back to shape and increasing your mental and physical well-being as an overall result.

"FIT" vs "FAT"

Photo Credit: Samuel Marianno

Photo Credit: Samuel Marianno

At the end of the day, it all boils down to the responsibility and determination of the individual to make an effort in achieving a good balance managing a hectic work life and a healthy lifestyle.

The difference between the two words “FIT” and “FAT” is the letter “I”, everyone makes their own call in pursuing the type of lifestyles that they desire and think what is best for them.

BONUS: Interview with Frank Choo from Sengkang Health

Advocating exercise is one thing, practicing what one preaches is another. I took the opportunity to interview a Frank Choo, senior executive of Sengkang Health on his healthy lifestyle despite a hectic schedule.

Q: Do you subscribe to the HIIT workout?

A: Yes, I do. Especially when I am short of time.

Q: How effective have you found it to be?

A: It is a great cardio workout as it is high intensity which requires you to put in 80% of your effort. The workout can consist of a variety of exercises that builds and tones different parts of your muscles.

Q: Is it difficult to balance having an active workout routine with time for work and family?

A: Not really. It is more of time management and lifestyle habit. Think of it this way, if you eat every day, you should also work out every day so that the calorie input is equal to calorie output. Furthermore, working out can help you to detress and relax after a hard day’s work. If you spend about 8.5 hours working in a day, a 20-30mins workout is approximately of that time.

This series is made possible through our collaboration with Sengkang Health, a SingHealth institution that aims to build a community compact for a healthier Northeast. We have worked with the doctors of Sengkang Health in creating this health series. Let us know if you want to see more similar content in the comment section below and check out the other articles of this 6-part series.