Category Archives: Health & Fitness

Hong Kong records ‘serious’ air pollution levels, thanks to Nesat and Haitang

Hong Kong records ‘serious’ air pollution levels as Typhoon Nesat and Tropical Storm Haitang whip up unhealthy conditions amidst heat

Published: SCMP, 30 Jul 2017
Link to original article here

Hong Kong recorded “very high” to “serious” levels of air pollution across the city on Sunday afternoon [July 30; Saturday wasn’t much better], made worse by Typhoon Nesat and Tropical Storm Haitang as light winds hindered the dispersion of pollutants.

“Under the influence of the outer subsiding air from Typhoon Nesat and Tropical Storm Haitang, a continental airstream is affecting Hong Kong. The weather is very hot with moderate west to northwesterly winds,” the department said in an announcement on Sunday.

“Light winds hindered the dispersion of air pollutants formed yesterday and led to higher than normal pollution levels in the morning. The intense sunshine enhances photochemical smog activities and the formation of ozone, resulting in high ozone concentrations in the Pearl River Delta region.”

The high level of ozone has contributed to the formation of nitrogen dioxide particularly in parts of urban areas and along roads, the department said.

More monitoring stations are expected to record “serious” levels of pollution later on Sunday, it added.

A 19-year-old man was sent to North District Hospital after he felt unwell while hiking in Sheung Shui. The university student’s condition was later stated as critical.

Temperatures reached an average of 34 degrees Celsius on Sunday afternoon, with Sha Tin, Kowloon City, Happy Valley and Sham Shui Po recording 37 degrees. It was 36 degrees in Tuen Mun, Shau Kei Wan and Kwun Tong.

The Observatory has issued the “very hot weather” warning, meaning that the risk of heatstroke is high.


The Observatory said Typhoon Nesat had weakened, moving further inland into Fujian province in mainland China. Tropical Storm Haitang meanwhile moved northeast closer to the vicinity of Taiwan. The pollution levels in Hong Kong will remain higher than normal until Haitang reaches the southeastern coast of China.

When the pollution level is “very high” or worse, the elderly and those with heart or respiratory illnesses are advised to reduce or avoid outdoor activities.


Concreting Hong Kong trails harms runners’ joints, says expert

The repetitive jolts from landing on concrete causes tendinosis – irreversible injury to ligaments, tendons and muscles; a group is working with the government on alternatives to concreting the city’s trails

Published: SCMP, 22 Jul 2017
Link to the original article here

Rugby players play on rugby pitches, track athletes run on tracks, rock climbers climb rocks, mountain bikers go up and down mountains on bikes. So why should trail runners run on anything but natural trails?

Knee and ankle joints suffer from the impact of running or hiking on concrete, and steps force the joints into unnatural angles, causing further injury.

Yet the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) continues to concrete trails to “protect” hikers and runners. For example, part of section eight of the Hong Kong Trail across Hong Kong Island was unnecessarily cemented as part of a government project in Big Wave Bay, in the southeast of the island, in 2008.

The repetitive jolts that result from landing on concrete causes an injury called tendinosis, in ligaments, tendons and muscles, collectively known as fascia, says Alain Chu, Hong Kong physiotherapy and acupuncture expert and mountaineer.

“Every sport should have a suitable surface. For trail running, they should be on trails. I don’t know why the government needs to change the country parks into city gardens,” Chu says.

Do not confuse tendinosis with tendinitis, Chu says. “Tendinitis is an inflammation, but inflammation is the first step of healing and can be solved in three to five weeks.

“But the tendinosis means it cannot heal; there’s no inflammation, it just can’t heal. They lose the healing power pretty much forever.”

Tendinosis is a disruption of the cells at a molecular level, meaning there is constant pain, particularly walking down stairs. If the fascia ever recovers, it takes years and a lot of treatment, Chu says.

Runners and hikers with strong tendons are less likely to suffer from tendinosis.

“If you want the tendon to get stronger, you must get used to it,” Chu says. “There are many trail runners these days, but before trail running, they did not exercise, and did not hike.

“They just go straight to running. They should spend more time building that strength. Or, for me, I go to trails without concrete.”

To make matters worse, hiking on stairs can put undue stress on joints. Paths such as the one up Lantau Peak require hikers to climb huge staircases.

The knee flexes to a far greater angle to get down each step than on a smooth gradients, Chu says, so that the ligaments and tendons are at maximum extension and pull on the knee cap.

This will cause more stress and impact, and the wear and tear of the joint surface. If the angle is very sharp, the force is very high; if you walk down slopes, the force is much less,” he says.

Continue reading Concreting Hong Kong trails harms runners’ joints, says expert

Hong Kong people walk more steps per day than anyone else, says Stanford study

Published: Coconuts, 13 Jul 2017
Link to the original article here

Congratulations, guys – for once, Hong Kong has topped an international index for something other than being mind-bogglingly expensive! Apparently, on top of having one of the world’s longest average lifespans (all the better to pay rent with, my dear), Hongkongers are also walking more than everybody else.

According to a Stanford University study recently published in the science journal Nature, Hong Kong people walk an average of 6,880 steps a day, making us the most ambulatory populace out of the 46 territories and countries assessed [although that still falls short of the recommended 10k steps per day – or 15k steps per day, as suggested by another study]. How many of those 6,880 steps are actually spent going around other people hogging valuable pavement space remains to be seen.

In second place with a daily step count of 6,189 is China, with fellow Coconuts city Singapore coming in ninth place with 5,674 steps a day (full list here). Ha! Eat our dust, Singapore.

(Sorry, that was mean – we’re just lashing out because they’ve surpassed us in so many other ways. What, who said that?)

These results are based on data taken from the accelerometer-equipped smartphones of 717,000 people in 111 countries over the course of 95 days. (If you’re wondering, the 46 places that ended up getting ranked were chosen because they had over 1,000 participants.) On top of step counts, researchers also looked at obesity rates, gender, and income.

Researchers found that people from places with low obesity rates tend to all walk a similar amount each day, while people from countries with a high obesity rates tend to either walk very little or a lot, a phenomenon which they dubbed “activity inequality”. Using the data available, the researchers calculated an “activity inequality” score for each of the 46 places they ranked, with lower scores indicating a better distribution of physical activity.


According to the paper, “individuals in the five countries with the highest activity inequality are 196% more likely to be obese than individuals from the 5 countries with the lowest activity inequality”, while a high activity inequality also corresponds to a larger gender gap for physical movement.

Hong Kong, with the lowest activity inequality score in the rankings (22.2), is correspondingly a compact and highly walkable city (well, you know that), where people of both sexes walk roughly the same amount, which is all great news … now let’s work on that wealth gap.

Should 15,000 steps a day be our new exercise target?

Taking 10,000 steps per day is often suggested as a desirable exercise goal for people who wish to improve their health. But a new study of postal workers in Scotland suggests that that number could be too conservative and that, to best protect our hearts, many of us might want to start moving quite a bit more

Published: New York Times, 22 Mar 2017
Link to the original article here

It has been almost 70 years since the publication of the London Transit Workers Study, a famous work in which researchers tracked the heart health of London bus drivers and conductors. They found that the conductors, who walked up and down bus aisles throughout the workday, were substantially less likely to develop or die from heart disease than the drivers, who sat almost constantly while at work.

This study was one of the first to persuasively show that being physically active could lower someone’s risk for heart disease, while being sedentary had the opposite effect.

Since then, countless large-scale studies have substantiated that finding, and at this point, there is little doubt that moving or not moving during the day will affect the health of your heart.

But precisely how much exercise might be needed in order to avoid heart disease has remained very much in question. The threshold of 10,000 daily steps, incorporated as a goal into many activity monitors today, has not been scientifically validated as a way to lessen disease risk.

So for the new study, which was published this month in The International Journal of Obesity, researchers at the University of Warwick in England and other institutions decided to refer back to but also advance and expand upon the results of that foundational Transit Workers Study by examining another group of employees whose workdays involve mostly walking or sitting. They turned to postal workers in Glasgow, Scotland.

The Glaswegian mail carriers generally cover their routes on foot, not by driving, and spend many hours each day walking, the scientists knew. But the mail service’s office workers, like office workers almost everywhere, remain seated at their desks during the bulk of the workday.

This sharp contrast between the extent to which the workers move or sit during the day could provide new insights into the links between activity and health, the scientists felt.

They began by recruiting 111 of the postal-service workers, both men and women, and most between the ages of 40 and 60. None had a personal history of heart disease, although some had close relatives with the condition.

The researchers measured volunteers’ body mass indexes, waist sizes, blood sugar levels and cholesterol profiles, each of which, if above normal, increases the chances of cardiac disease.

Then they had each volunteer wear a sophisticated activity tracker for a week, while at work and at home and during the weekend.

Afterward, the researchers determined how many waking hours each day the volunteers had spent seated or on foot. They also calculated how many steps each person had taken each day.

The variations turned out to be considerable. Some of the office workers sat for more than 15 hours each day between work and home, while most of the mail carriers barely sat at all during working hours.

Continue reading Should 15,000 steps a day be our new exercise target?

4-Week Plank Challenge! 27 days to go…

Hiking and walking are excellent on their own, but the addition of strengthening exercises is undoubtedly even better. As such, I was doing dumbbells for a while, but unfortunately managed to injure my right elbow (tennis elbow, woo-hoo), so I have been pretty slack in terms of upper body workouts for some time now. :/

Yesterday, however, I saw this 4-Week Plank Challenge by LIVESTRONG.COM on Facebook, and figured why not? I can do planks. Sure, I hate doing them, lol, but at least I can do them – and without causing any further injury to my elbow, so no excuses no more!

With effect from yesterday, I have thus committed myself to 28 (now 27) consecutive days of twice daily one-minute planks. Hurrah! Ugh. The only good thing about this particular plank challenge (my first, incidentally) is that you’re supposed to attempt a different plank style each day (who knew there were so many variations?!), which will hopefully break up the monotony and make it more interesting.

Anyway, if you’d like to check it out or also do the challenge, here’s the 4-week schedule. Photos and video demos of the various planking styles for Weeks 1, 2, 3 and 4 can be found in the links below.

If a minute is too long for you to hold a plank, you can start with 30 seconds, graduating to a minute (or more) as you improve over the course of the challenge. I’m thinking of just sticking to a minute throughout. In any case, here’s to my future six-pack a month from now! :p


LIVESTRONG.COM 4-Week Plank Challenge, week-by-week breakdown:

Hong Kong’s official air quality index failing to warn on deadly health hazard

Hong Kong’s official Air Quality Health Index is creating a false sense of security by consistently failing to consider dangerous levels of PM2.5, the fine particulate matter associated with lung disease, warns Paul Stapleton

Published: SCMP, 12 Jan 2017
Link to the original article here

Each morning after waking up, I look out of the window at the clarity of the air and then check two websites that give air pollution readings for Hong Kong.

Admittedly, my first action is very subjective. Air clarity is a crude way to measure pollution levels, especially during months that tend to be foggy. This is why I check the indexes on those two sites. Then, I decide whether to go out for a jog or stay indoors on the treadmill.

One of the websites is run by the Environmental Protection Department. It makes air-quality forecasts and generates a real-time Air Quality Health Index scaled from 1 to 10+, or “low” to “serious”. The other site is the reputable World Air Quality Index, which measures only particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5), one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

These microscopic particles that just hang in the air are known to penetrate deep into our lungs when we breathe. They mostly come from vehicle exhausts, the burning of coal to make electricity and other industrial activities. They are also known to be hazardous to health, especially of children; PM2.5 is associated with lung diseases, including cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease.

During the past week, the air pollution forecast on the local TV news each day, presumably taken from the government service, was for “low” to “medium” levels. However, at the World Air Quality Index, PM2.5 levels have been in excess of 100 for several days running. The US Environmental Protection Agency puts the 24-hour and annual standard for PM2.5 at 35 and 15 respectively.

Thus, on days when Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department was informing the public that the level of air pollution was forecast to be low to medium, the amount of PM2.5 – arguably the mostly deadly pollutant – exceeded safe levels by a big margin.


Continue reading Hong Kong’s official air quality index failing to warn on deadly health hazard