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Revised physical activity guidelines launched by SportSG and HPB

A revised set of Singapore Physical Activity Guidelines that focuses on encouraging people to do a variety of activities and reduce sedentarism was launched by Sport Singapore (SportSG) and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) on Sunday (June 12).

Developed by experts from medical and health fields, the guidelines aim to encourage Singaporeans to strengthen their aerobic fitness, muscular strength, bone strength, flexibility and balance by doing different activities.

But improving all these aspects may not necessarily mean a trip to the gym or park. These activities can also be incorporated into people's daily lives. For example, taking a walk to get food instead of getting it delivered.

These guidelines were launched in 2011 and the revised version, which are also based on the World Health Organisation's 2020 recommendations, also includes guidelines for different age groups, pregnant and postpartum women as well as persons with disabilities (PWDs).

A notable change is in the recommended duration of activities for adults. The previous guidelines had called for adults to accumulate 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week with a minimum of 10 minutes each time. But this has been changed to a target range of 150-300 minutes a week with no minimum threshold, as activities of any duration, without a minimum threshold, are found to be associated with benefits.

Dr Benedict Tan, lead adviser in the guidelines' advisory committee, said these recommendations are more holistic and comprehensive.

"With more awareness now, we can be more accurate. (Besides cardiovascular or aerobic fitness), there are other aspects of health or fitness that are equally important. Cardio is a good start but it's not the be all and end all," said Dr Tan, head of the SingHealth Duke-NUS Sport & Exercise Medicine Centre.

He also noted that while more people are exercising, the number of people with chronic conditions such as diabetes has also gone up slightly.

"We've been tracking physical activity levels and they've been going up... but not enough," he added. "The other issue is the people who really need to be active. That segment tends to be quite stubborn and the numbers are not going up as much as we would like.

"What's happening is those who are already active are getting more active but the sedentary have remained sedentary. For this version, we needed a refreshed approach to target them."

According to the National Population Health Survey 2020, 76.4 per cent of Singapore residents aged 18 to 74 years had sufficient (high and moderate) total physical activity (work-related, transport-related and leisure-time), down from 80.1 per cent in 2019 and 80.9 per cent in 2017.

The survey also found that 33.4 per cent exercised regularly - an increase from 29.4 per cent in 2017 - while 42.9 per cent did not exercise at all.

About one in 10 (9.5 per cent) had diabetes mellitus during the 2019-2020 period compared to 8.8 per cent in 2017.

Separately, the National Sport Participation Survey 2021 showed that 72 per cent of at least 4,500 Singapore residents aged above 13 regularly participated in sport, up from 69 per cent in 2020 and 64 per cent in 2019.

To encourage the sedentary to be more active, Dr Tan said the guidelines address why they should engage in physical activity, what they can do and how they can go about incorporating such activities into their everyday lives.

Such tips include taking the stairs, going out to buy food and groceries instead of relying on delivery services. Beginners are encouraged to start with light-intensity activities.

Mr Koh Peng Keng, the HPB's interim CEO and chief operating officer, added: "A part of the evidence that came out is that any minutes of physical activity is good to have.

"Through the National Population Health Survey... we found that body mass index is also going up because certain segments of society are getting less physical activity. We're spending more time behind screens and being more sedentary.

"We are happy people are exercising more and we hope to sustain that. For those who are inactive, we hope they can start slowly and make achievable steps. Take your time to build it up so it becomes a habit you can sustain throughout your life."

Curriculum specialist Rachel Ang said she now better understands how to help her family of five stay active.

The 28-year-old said: "In the past, I thought we had to do moderate or vigorous activities mostly outdoors to be considered as active but now I know that even our daily activities count so it feels easier to stay active."

Muhd Farhan Ismail, who has intellectual disability, was glad a set was released for PWDs.

"With the guidelines, they will be more encouraged because they know why they must be active and what they can do so that they can be fit."

HEALTH AND WELLBEINGEXERCISE/FITNESSSPORTS AND RECREATION