Exercise programme for civil servants great but add diet advice too, say experts

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad (second right), seen here with deputy education minister Teoh Nie Ching (left), has proposed a 15-minute ‘X-Break’ to allow government servants to exercise at their workplace. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Two fitness experts and a dietitian have welcomed the Cabinet’s decision that each ministry should have daily exercise sessions of 15 minutes but propose that a proper diet plan be included as well.

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad, who announced the “X-break” programme last month, said each ministry would organise its own sessions with the participation of all staff, either in the morning or the evening, to encourage a healthier lifestyle.

The Malaysian Dietitians’ Association (MDA) told FMT that obesity was on the rise, with civil servants often making up the bulk of obese persons as detailed in the last National Health and Morbidity Survey.

“Sedentarism is bad and most of us sit for too many hours – five to six hours a day – so this initiative will increase awareness and change mindsets on the importance of physical activity,” said MDA president Winnie Chee.

But Chee, who is also an associate dean at the International Medical University’s School of Health, said a balanced and nutritious low-calorie diet must be incorporated as well if anyone is serious about losing weight.

Benjamin Price, a certified trainer, agreed. He said the programme should include basic nutrition education so that attendees can make informed choices about food.

“I deliver corporate talks on this regularly and it is always apparent that misconceptions about nutrition are a leading contributor to Malaysia’s high obesity rate,” said Price, who runs a sports coach concierge app.

On the 15-minute exercise programme, Price said he was a fan but that 15 minutes was not enough to achieve drastic weight loss – “only to make someone generally sedentary a lot healthier”.

“When you look at one’s health, the metabolic and lymphatic effects that exercise has and the spinal health it provides are far more significant than the calories burnt,” Price told FMT.

“One can achieve this reduction in excess energy consumption by just eating less. It also sets a good tone for generally being more active in even (smaller) ways throughout the rest of the day.”

He added that the exercises for the “X-break” programme should include those that people would find easy to follow and enjoy doing. He proposed varying different types of exercises to determine which is best.

He also urged those in charge of the programme to speak to the participating civil servants and find out which exercise is the most popular before deciding what to base the training on.

Meanwhile, Ammetta Malhotra Bergin, a personal trainer and rehabilitation specialist, said the programme was a blessing in disguise as sitting down for too long could lead to injuries and back pain.

She proposed “limbering” exercises such as dynamic stretching with yoga, calisthenics, breathing and light aerobics. “But nothing too strenuous. If it’s too complicated to do, you can be injured,” she said.

She also suggested that the programme be made compulsory for all, with no “free passes” for those who are able-bodied. She added that the exercises should be done during work hours itself and not during lunch break.

“Menus can be given on what we should be eating when we go out so they can make healthier choices,” she said, listing chicken but not fried, and rice instead of instant noodles as some examples.