lead W Minister of State in the Ministry of Health Amy Khor tells Allswell how she walks the talk of working out and eating healthily. By THERESA TAN
PHOTOGRAPHER KELVIN CHIA STYLIST STEVE THIO HAIR AND MAKE-UP KHAI
WELLNESS FOR ALL
hen one first espies the petite Dr Amy Khor, who stands at 1.5m, “exercise enthusiast” might not be the term that comes immediately to mind. But that is where the secret to her seemingly endless energy lies. “I hit the gym every weekday morning before I go to work,” Dr Khor reveals. “There, I run between 5 and 6km on the treadmill and do some strengthening exercises. On weekends, I cycle on my gym bike at home for about an hour or go for a 5km run round my neighbourhood. I also do some stretching exercises.” For most people, such an exercise routine would be a huge commitment. But for Dr Khor, who has a double portfolio of Minister of State in the Ministry of Health, as well as in the Ministry of Manpower — in addition to her ongoing duties as Mayor of South West District and Member of Parliament for Hong Kah North — daily exercise is non-negotiable. “Like many Singaporeans I do have a busy schedule,” she says. “But it is
important to incorporate physical activity into our daily lives. I try to exercise every day by working out first thing in the morning. I do this even when I am overseas. In fact, I feel uneasy and lethargic if for some reason I am unable to do my morning exercise.” It may also come as a surprise to some that Dr Khor is 55 years old and the mother of three grown-up children aged 24, 23 and 18. She can easily pass off as someone 10 years younger, thanks to the oxygenising benefits of regular exercise. Although she has tried out trendy exercises like Zumba (a Latin-inspired dance workout), which she declares to be “a fun way to burn those calories”, running — either on a treadmill or outdoors — remains Dr Khor’s favourite sport. “Running allows me to have a really good and rigorous workout. It builds my stamina and charges me up for the day. I can feel the adrenalin rush, and it helps me to de-stress. Besides, running doesn’t depend on equipment or teamwork. I can run whenever it’s convenient.”
A little each day
Not every woman can follow such a rigorous exercise routine, she admits. But “even if you are unable to specially allot time for exercise, you can still do so by taking the stairs instead of the lift. Doing such little ‘exerciselets’ over the course of the day adds up and is better than not exercising at all.”
I hit the gym every weekday morning before I go to work.
Dr Khor’s healthy lifestyle habits bear obvious results, so it seems fitting that she was appointed Chief Health Ambassador by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) in February this year. That makes her a spokesperson for healthy living. “I encourage not just my family members but also friends and grassroots volunteers to exercise regularly. As Chief Health Ambassador, I walk the talk. It is important to stay healthy so that we can take good care of ourselves and loved ones,” she says. Dr Khor reveals that her family members, like her, are health-conscious, eat well and exercise regularly. “My husband, who is 57, takes regular walks, but due to my tight schedule I often can’t join him as I need to exercise early in the morning and then go to work on weekdays, or attend community events on weekends.” Dr Khor takes her role so seriously that she is promoting exercise in her constituency of Hong Kah North. “The grassroots volunteers in charge of the constituency’s wellness programme and I came up with the idea of organising brisk walking and jogging sessions at different park connectors around the island on a regular basis to encourage more residents to participate,” she says. “This has attracted quite a number of residents. I make it a point to join
It is important to stay healthy so that we can take good care of ourselves and loved ones. 10
WELLNESS FOR ALL
them for this programme. It is fun to visit the different park connectors and to exercise together with the grassroots volunteers and residents.” The constituency walks are organised regularly by different Residents’
Committees but the walk and jog at different park connectors, called “Go, Go, Go Hong Kah North”, is organised once a month. The other key to a healthy lifestyle is eating healthily. For a Peranakan like Dr Khor, that can be a challenge, given that Nyonya cuisine is often laden with pork fat and other heart-stopping ingredients. So how is it possible for
her to eat healthy? “Peranakans, especially those from Penang, as I am, love our food. But, over time, my family members have modified our diet. The trick is to do it at a measured pace and not expect overnight changes. “Nothing beats my mum’s home — cooked dinners, but I encourage my mother [who is 84 and lives with her] to cook healthier meals using less oil, sugar and salt, and to use healthier cooking methods like steaming and boiling.
Starting from young “We eat brown rice at home, and I’ve got my mum to use canola oil or olive oil and to avoid deep frying. We do not eat curries every day and even when we do, it’s only in moderation. Our family meals at home will definitely have vegetables and soup, and one or two main dishes such as fish and chicken,” says Dr Khor. “I also refer to HPB’s Healthier Dining recipe tips and share these with my mother so as to help her cook healthier food.” Dr Khor eschews red meat like beef and mutton, and she also gives pork a miss. Instead, she eats plenty of fruits and vegetables. Getting one’s family to buy into healthy eating can be a hurdle. Dr Khor does this by letting them know the
benefits of eating healthily. “I encouraged my children to eat healthily from young by putting vegetables like broccoli into their porridge. I am pleased that eating habits built during their younger days have inculcated in them a taste for broccoli, as well as for most fruits and vegetables.” But if there is one guilty pleasure Dr Khor has, it is durian, something she indulges in “only once in a while”. Keeping fit and eating healthily are not just “good habits” to develop. Dr Khor underscores that taking care of one’s total health is a responsibility that cannot be abdicated.
The ageing of our population is one of the most urgent health issues on hand, and is linked to an increase in chronic diseases.
Dr Khor’s daily diet
“For breakfast, I normally take two slices of bread with sardines or peanut butter. For lunch, most times I try to have a healthier meal such as yong tau foo, fishball soup, fish soup with some rice etc. From time to time, I do indulge in char kway teow or chicken rice but I do this sparingly. For dinner, I try to eat at home most times. At home, I eat brown rice with mostly fish or chicken, tofu and plenty of vegetables.”
“The ageing of our population is one of the most urgent health issues on hand, and is linked to an increase in chronic diseases. While the government will do what it can to help ensure that no Singaporean is denied healthcare, Singaporeans must also take care of their health. “Encouraging Singaporeans to take care of their health by living a healthy lifestyle is yet another key challenge. Health is not just about physical health. It is also about one’s mental, emotional and social health. I hope that all Singaporeans will take an active interest in keeping themselves healthy and encouraging others to do so.” To start living healthier, Dr Khor suggests starting small. “Instead of putting aside a full hour to exercise, try to have short bouts of exercises incorporated throughout the day. For example, maybe a 10-minute brisk walk. We can also purchase healthier foods for the family.” One way to do this, she says, is to check the nutritional labels of food products and look out for HPB’s Healthier Choice Symbol. But besides staying active physically and mentally, Dr Khor advises building strong relationships with loved ones. “Spend quality time with family and friends, and make sure that you have time to wind down and relax. This will help to ensure your mental and emotional well-being,” Dr Khor says. ISSUE 4
Published on Aug 1, 2013