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Empowering lifestyle changes to reverse the lifelong disease of diabetes

By Isaiah Chng, Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Exercise Is Medicine Singapore Advisory Panel Member

Diabetes has been a hot topic in Singapore recently and this is hardly surprising considering the harmful consequences on the health of those who are afflicted with it.

I previously wrote that diabetes could be managed in the workplace using a generic framework from Health Promotion Board. Companies can certainly do more to empower employees to make the necessary lifestyle changes that will have a lifelong impact through these two ways:

1. Exercise it away!

Exercise is typically encouraged to increase the absorption of glucose into our muscles as one method of managing diabetes. We have always known that pre-diabetes (borderline high blood sugar) can be prevented from developing into full-blown diabetes but it was formerly thought that there was no reversal for patients already diagnosed with diabetes.

There is now strong evidence that targeted lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise can "reactivate" the pancreas, increasing insulin production and regulating blood sugar levels. This means that the underlying reasons for diabetes (i.e. low insulin) is now reversible!

2. Making follow-up easier and more personal

Although many corporate executives undergo basic health screening regularly, a 2017 health screening survey done by SingHealth revealed that a significant number who should follow up on their screening results fail to so. This renders the purpose of health screening – detection for action – ineffective. It is crucial that employees who have been identified to be at risk seek professional medical advice and follow through on their doctors’ recommendations on lifestyle changes.

Companies can encourage employees to follow up with doctors’ recommendations by making health coaching more accessible and personal. The introduction of mobile health coaching applications makes it cost-effective and time-efficient for companies to pay for employees to gain access to such services.

This will motivate employees to take active steps to improve their health because they will be provided with personal health plans suited to their health needs and interests. Furthermore, the Health Promotion Board recently launched the Workplace Alliance for Health (WAH) Scheme for MNCs and the SME Health Plus for SMEs to co-fund programmes that cater for chronic disease intervention and arrest any health risks early on where possible.

Setting physical activity targets to manage diabetes

As a Clinical Exercise Physiologist with years of experience health coaching, I cannot stress enough the importance of the intensity and duration of physical activity in helping employees manage their chronic health issues. The below combination of physical activity targets is a recommended guideline that your employees can undertake:

  1. Aerobic / Cardio activity, such as jogging, group fitness, cycling, at moderate intensity of over 150 minutes per week, and
  2. Strength activity, such as lifting weights, circuit training, at high repetitions of 15 and above with light weights.

Apart from these targets, employees should work with health consultants who are certified trainers endorsed by organisations like Exercise Is Medicine1 Singapore towards a common goal of achieving and maintaining better health. These measures and the setting of targets may take some time but employers who know how to take care of their employees and stay true to investing in and taking care of their human capital will ultimately safeguard their best talents.


1A local medical movement in Singapore to ensure safe exercise for people with health risk

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