By Dr Fatimah Arshad, Professor of Nutrition, Dietetics & Health, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

Good health is about having a sound body and mind. You cannot have one without the other, and keeping them both in fighting-fit condition is not easy. But take things one at a time and do not lose confidence. A positive frame of mind will help you attain physical and mental equilibrium.

If you find it difficult to get into “exercise gear”, always bear in mind that regular physical activity helps reduce your risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases, besides strengthening your muscles and joints, improving your mental performance, blood pressure levels and overall wellbeing.

Those who are trying to lose or manage their weight effectively should combine physical activity with a sensible diet plan. Remember that as you exercise, your fat turns to muscle, so in some instances, you may actually gain weight initially before you begin to lose it, as muscle is heavier than fat.

One of the main benefits of regular exercise is that it strengthens the heart. It has been found that even with those who have suffered heart attacks, regular exercise significantly aided their recovery and continued activity, coupled with not smoking and weight control, helped them limit the extent of damage suffered by their hearts.

Evaluate your diet plan and make reasonable changes that you can maintain in the longer term. Our diet should include foods with higher fibre, lower carbohydrates, fats and calories such as rye bread, legumes, bran and other wholemeal products. You should also choose low glycaemic index and low glycaemic load bread as your source of carbohydrate whenever you can as it increases fullness whilst stabilising your blood glucose level. Research has shown that low glycaemic index dieters feel less hungry and a greater sense of fullness then those on a high glycaemic index diet (Source: American Journal Clinical of Nutrition, May 2005)

Exercise is beneficial even if you don’t have a family history of cardiovascular or other diseases. In fact, research has shown that those with sedentary lifestyles who take up regular but moderate physical activity, tend to benefit the most. Even as little as 20-30 minutes of sustained walking three times a week can show positive results.

You may have made up your mind to lose weight through diet and exercise, but are unsure how much weight you should lose. In this case, a good reference will be your Body Mass Index (BMI) and Waist-Hip Ration (WHR).

To calculate your BMI, use this formula or use BMI Chart:

Weight (kg)
Height (m) x Height (m)

Give yourself a pat on the back if your BMI registers between 18.5 and less than 25 (18.5-<25). If it is between 25 and 30, you are overweight and considered “at risk.” A BMI reading of more than 30 puts you in the obese category, and at even greater risk of contracting chronic diseases.

Your WHR can be calculated using this formula:

Waist (cm)
Hip (cm)

For women, a WHR of 0.8 or less is desirable; for men, 0.95. If your WHR exceeds 0.85 and 0.95 for women and men respectively, you should be aware that your risk of chronic diseases is greater.

If waist circumference is more than 80cm for women and 90cm for men in the Asian region, you are considered “at risk.”

You don’t have to get on a treadmill or lift weights to exercise – you may already be exercising without realising it. Those working at home, for instance, may feel that they don’t get any exercise but doing the household chores like sweeping, vacuuming, mopping and washing clothes manually are all forms of physical activity.

If you’d like to increase your physical activity and fitness levels but don’t have the time, see if you can increase the frequency or method of doing your household chores in the following manner:

1. Walk to the market or shops instead of taking the car.
2. Do the laundry manually.
3. Sweep instead of vacuum.
4. Do more gardening.
5. Play games with your family members regularly.
6. Organize family recreational activities outdoors especially at the weekends.

For a comprehensive weight loss and physical activity plan, consult a healthcare professional. Remember to approach new activities within your exercise regime with caution and pragmatism. There is no point pushing your limits if you end up injuring yourself.

Physical activity means sweating it out, which is not always the most comfortable thing to do; but exercising also releases endorphins, the body’s very own “feel good” chemical. Being healthy isn’t just about maintaining your physical health and wellbeing – it’s about being happy too!


Loving yourself is the heart of the matter, and it starts with loving your health. “Love Your Health, Love Your Self” is a series of articles brought to you by Gardenia on your health, with some practical ways to stay on the right track through stress management, proper diet, weight management and nutritional choices. Dr Fatimah Arshad, Professor of Dietetics, Nutrition & Health, is a respected Dietitian in academia, and was extensively involved in the development of Gardenia’s low-G.I, low-G.L. bread, Breakthru.

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