Career Advice

#ResilientAsiaChallenge Session 5 — What simple, low-cost practical changes can I make in the way I eat, sleep, and move so I can live a more resilient life?

min read
Mikaela Thompson

It’s the fifth and final week of the Resilient Asia Challenge, and I’m hoping that like me you’re feeling a little less frazzled and a little more equipped to deal with stress under such strange circumstances. It’s been a fun and enlightening journey with our expert contributors over the past five sessions as they opened our eyes to the physiological, psychological, and environmental impact stress has on us.

Today, in our host Sally’s words, we will be focusing on the ‘holy trinity’ of good health which is ‘sleep, exercise and nutrition’ to conclude our journey to resilience. As an added bonus, we are gifted with three expert contributors this week — Cindy Reid, Sharon Moore and Firdaus Hanan who will give us the low-down on how to holistically boost our mental and physical well being.

Considering our usual choices for exercise such as gyms and clubs are closed right now, how can we get creative to stay fit and motivated?

Cindy, a local Hong Konger is an expert on fitness and nutrition. She works in the notoriously stressful banking industry, while also being 38 weeks pregnant and still manages to be the epitome of ‘#fitspiration’ as well as the ‘fittest person’ Sally has met in her life. I think it’s safe to say she’s putting a few of us to shame right now and has some golden advice for us all.

Since most of us are more likely to be lifting bags of chips rather than weights at the moment, Cindy gets straight to the point answering — How can we avoid putting on weight right now? If you’re waiting with bated breath and an empty biscuit container like me, you’ll be happy to hear she has some key tips to prevent weight gain:

  • Start tracking your macros and download free apps to assist you. She recommends ‘MyFitnessPal’ which allows you to log your daily meals and energy expenditure which then helps you to calculate your calorie consumption.
  • If you’re able to, get outdoors, explore your local trails and breathe in fresh air. It also allows you to get out of your own mind and be social if you walk with a friend and aren’t very motivated by yourself.
  • Give a 4-minute Tabata workout a go. It requires no equipment, just your bodyweight! Or you can be creative and add in your own equipment like water bottles, bands, chairs or food cans.
  • Even though working and living in the same environment can be tough, try to make physical activity a routine even if it means watching your favorite show on TV at the same time.
  • Only invest in equipment that you will commit to using post-lockdown.

When it comes to creating healthy meal options, celebrity Malaysian chef Firdaus Hanan gets us salivating with his live cooking and smart meal advice. I’m guilty of indulging in takeaways when I’m stuck at home and can tell by the influx of delivery drivers on the streets, I’m not the only one!

Why should we forgo the convenience of takeout and cook at home then?

Firdaus sees cooking as a ‘forgotten skill’ that is underutilized these days, with a lot of us opting for takeout convenience. For him, the downside to ordering from a restaurant is that you don’t know what ingredients are being used or where they are sourced from….that tasty meal could be a result of some heavy-handed MSG. While restaurants are focused on a quick profit, cooking at home allows you to be in control of your health and the freshness of products. There’s also a misconception that buying outside is cheaper than cooking for yourself, which as I said, I am definitely guilty of doing frequently. He says research has proven that cooking at home is more sustainable and much cheaper in the long run. Not only that, but you also get a chance to have some quality time with family and friends by cooking together and catching up at the same time. In his opinion, it is incredibly easy to cook at home (we’re not talking masterchef, just simple, wholesome food). As an underachiever in the kitchen, I realise I need to stop making excuses and make home cooking a habit, and now is the perfect time for it. Firdaus recommends we don’t completely change our diet, but instead introduce new things bit by bit for sustainability and health. His tips are to include variety, freshness and also frozen items too, if you are prone to chucking out leftovers and aren’t blessed with a four-legged friend to shovel it up.

Demonstrating how to cook an easy, nutritious meal Firdaus whips up a delicious stir-fried pasta with beef and vegetables in just 10 minutes. He reminds us that although calorie-laden ingredients are often delicious, we should be trying to cook using healthy options in terms of oils and fats and avoid sugar as much as possible (especially when we are stuck on the couch a lot right now). He recommends loading up on proteins, stocking up on staple items and measuring your portions, if you’re anything like my household who have eyes bigger than their stomachs. On the other hand, if you’re short on time, he suggests cooking enough for leftovers too to cut down time in the kitchen.

With the first two parts of the ‘holy trinity’: exercise and food covered, it’s now time to tap into Sharon Moore’s expertise on how to achieve a satisfying sleep…

What factors are behind a good night’s sleep?

As a self-described ‘sleep wrecked teenager’ and health professional, Sharon explains from her personal experience, common mistakes we make and how to increase our chances of sleeping like a baby. It can be a vicious cycle for some people who don’t sleep to even talk about not sleeping because as you guessed, it creates even more anxiety and insomnia. Right now, she’s noticed that many people are understandably overwhelmed by stress during COVID-19 due to financial pressure, loved ones becoming sick and isolation. For many, this can mean finding it difficult to fall asleep, waking up and not getting back to sleep, or waking up extremely early. She says these are typical symptoms of stress insomnia and sadly counting sheep isn’t going to be your remedy as ‘stress, sleep, nutrition and fitness all have an unbreakable bond’.

It’s common knowledge that many people find a lack of sleep is a precursor for overeating, or in my instance migraines, so I’m relieved to hear Sharon believes sleeping habits can be changed rapidly and peaceful sleep is within our reach. The idea of genetics dictating our sleeping habits is a common one e.g. if mum was up watching American Idol repeats at 2 am, it’s no wonder I do too, but actually Sharon says it is more complex than that. It comes down to how we approach the four areas in our life we have control over: exercise, nutrition, sleep and stress management. This can change the way in which our genes are expressed.

So you’re wondering what a good night’s sleep comes down to, right? Quantity and quality Sharon says (Q + Q = Great sleep). This means quiet, uninterrupted sleep that lets you wake up feeling refreshed, without restless limbs and snoring. The ideal amount of sleep for adults is 7–9 hours as our brain burns more calories at night than awake as we go through the different phases of sleep. For those of you that are parents, babies and toddlers can add an extra obstacle to a good night’s sleep. Sharon says inevitably sleep wrecked kids = sleeped wrecked parents and you need to break the cycle by planning around it and taking sleep ‘in shifts’.

If you’re keen on tracking your sleeping patterns and breathing, Sharon suggests an app called ‘SnoreLab’ which is free and measures the sound of your breathing to check for disturbances and quality of sleep.

Now, at the end of week 5 of The Resilient Asia Challenge, I hope you feel better positioned and motivated to achieve the holy trinity of good health that is essential for resilience. At the beginning of this virus, it was hard not to feel like the apocalypse was looming with everything out of our control, however, human resilience is proving people can survive and thrive in the grimmest of times. I hope you feel all set to eat, sleep and move better after being a part of the Resilient Asia Challenge and enjoy enacting all the advice we have received.

Thank you for taking part — stay tuned for special offers and the next series coming up!

Produced by Black Dog Consultants and Resilio

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