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Forgo rest for exercise? Doctors advise caution for busy execs

EXERCISING IN THE WEE HOURS: Members of local cycling group Joyriders riding into the night. Doctors caution that exercising without sufficient sleep may be counterproductive, and may lead to muscle strain or injury.


    Jun 09, 2014

    Forgo rest for exercise? Doctors advise caution for busy execs

    IT'S 12am in the morning as she steps out of the office entrance. Finally time to call it a night? Afraid not. A 5km run around the central business district commences.

    For lawyer Angie Tan, this is the only time she gets to burn off the excess flab from the day's indulgences.

    "I'm in the office at 8am and leave the office only at 3am on busy days; there's no other time," said the 24-year-old.

    After her run, she heads back to her desk for another hour of work, before finally heading home.

    With work cutting short the amount of time people have for leisure, some are cramming in an exercise regime at the expense of rest. All in the bid to get healthy.

    General practitioner Quek Koh Choon, who runs Bedok Life Clinic, said he has come across many young adults who sleep an average of four hours but embark on demanding exercise.

    Last September, a study done by the Groningen Growth and Development Centre found that Singaporeans put in some of the longest hours among developed countries - an average of 2,287 hours a year.

    "There is the saying, no pain no gain, but some take it too literally," said Dr Quek. "Pain or tiredness could be a way of telling you to slow down."

    Doctors say those who resort to such exercise regimes are usually between 20 and 40 years old and who are keen to achieve fitness within a short period of time.

    Others: those who travel for work and have little time in between. But their efforts could turn out to be counterproductive, cautioned doctors.

    "When one has less than the recommended hours of sleep, the body does not have optimal rest. This being so, the body may not have sufficient opportunity to repair itself," said Clarence Yeo, a general practitioner at Killiney Family & Wellness Clinic.

    "Exercising under such conditions may not only be counterproductive, like faster muscle fatigue, but may also lead to muscle strain or injury," Dr Yeo added.

    Andrew Dutton, medical director at Singapore Medical Group's orthopaedic group, said muscles absorb less energy when fatigued and this results in a higher chance of injury when stretched.

    Wong Wei Mon, senior physician and deputy medical director at Raffles Medical, said little sleep also comes with higher levels of the stress hormone, which also interferes with tissue repair and growth.

    But ill-effects aside, let's not discount the benefits of exercise, as it can serve as a good way to wind down after a stressful day due to the endorphins released, said Dr Wong.

    So how to reap the benefits of exercise without putting too much stress on your body?

    Spread out exercise rather than cramming everything into one session, said Dr Wong.

    This could mean simple stretching breaks at work or moderate-intensity activities like brisk walking and water aerobics.

    "For sedentary individuals, start by being active. Start slow, build up stamina, frequency and duration of exercise gradually," added Dr Wong. "Weekend warriors tend to suffer injuries".