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Healthy gifts this festive season

Gift-giving - just like overindulging in food and fun - is practically customary during Christmas. Help your loved ones recover their well-being and enjoy better health with your gifts.
The Straits Times - December 12, 2013
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Healthy gifts this festive season

Gift-giving - just like overindulging in food and fun - is practically customary during Christmas. Help your loved ones recover their well-being and enjoy better health with your gifts.

Mind Your Body picks the brains of health experts to come up with 20 gifts that promote the health of children, adults and the elderly.

The experts include 12 doctors with different specialities - four paediatricians, three geriatricians, a psychiatrist, a sports physician, a urologist, a dermatologist and a general surgeon.

For Adults

1 Weighing scale

Losing weight is an accomplishment, but the real challenge is keeping that weight off for good.

Given the prevailing belief that few individuals succeed at long-term weight loss, the United States' National Weight Control Registry was established in 1994 to provide information about the strategies used by people who have succeeded.

It now tracks more than 4,000 individuals aged 18 and above who have lost at least 13.6kg and kept the weight off for at least a year, reported The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition in 2005.

Findings from the registry suggest six key strategies for long-term success at weight loss: Engaging in high levels of physical activity, eating a diet that is low in calories and fat, eating breakfast, maintaining a consistent eating pattern, catching "slips" before they turn into larger weight gains and, finally, self-monitoring of one's weight on a regular basis.

So Dr Foo Chek Siang, a general surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, recommends getting your loved ones a weighing scale to set them on the road for successful weight loss and maintenance.

A digital weighing scale gives a more accurate reading as it eliminates parallax error, which is the difference between what one sees on the scale and one's actual weight, he said.

Weighing scales that measure body fat percentage are also useful, he said.

Even if a person does not lose much weight, he will know he is working in the right direction if he loses body fat, he explained.

The Tanita body composition monitor (model BC541) is a digital scale that passes low-level electrical signals through the body via footpads to calculate one's body composition. It can calculate the body fat percentage, total body water percentage, visceral fat (internal fat that wraps around the organs) rating, basal metabolic rate (minimum level of energy the body needs when at rest), muscle mass and bone mass. It is available for $168 at Takashimaya Department Store.

A cheaper alternative is the Guardian digital weighing scale which costs $25.95 and is available at Guardian Health & Beauty outlets.

2 Exercise resistance band

This is basically a giant rubber band that a person pulls to strengthen certain muscles. Such bands are widely used for rehabilitation of muscles and joints after injuries, and for general conditioning of muscles and joints, said Dr Fadzil Hamzah, a resident physician at Changi Sports Medicine Centre at Changi General Hospital.

They are versatile and portable - good for frequent travellers who may not have a worldwide gym membership or easy access to fitness centres, he added.

He recommends Thera-Band resistance bands, which are the only resistive exercise bands endorsed by the American Physical Therapy Association. They come in different thicknesses and colour-coded resistance levels.

People should pick a band with a resistance level appropriate to their strength and type of exercise.

A force of 1.14kg is required to stretch a thin, yellow TheraBand from its original length of 30cm to 60cm, whereas 3.4kg of force would be needed to do so for a thick, blue Thera-Band.

Dr Fadzil said the progressive resistance system makes it easy to measure the user's progress in exercise intensity and track fitness or therapy goals. It also serves as positive reinforcement for the user.

Fu Kang Healthcare Supply sells eight types of Thera-Band resistance bands, which cost between $12.50 and $19.50. Get them from its retail store at 04-06 Delfi Orchard and online at

3 Portion control utensils

The mainstay of weight control is a person's diet and healthy eating should start from scrutinising what is on one's plate.

Portion control utensils help control serving sizes and, hence, limit calorie intake, said Dr Foo Chek Siang, a general surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre.

Keeping to regular portions also helps raise metabolism and prevents overeating, he added.

This set of dinnerware was designed in consultation with registered dietitians.

The porcelain plates have lines that show the user exact amounts of each food group - protein, starch and vegetables - to eat.

The leaves and vine on the bowls and glasses indicate different ounce levels.

A set of two porcelain dinner plates costs US$39.95 (S$48.70) while a set of four porcelain bowls for soups, salads or cereal costs US$29.95. They are available online at

4 Health screening packages

As Singapore's population ages, the prevalence of chronic diseases is likely to increase.

For instance, the latest National Health Survey found that 11.3 per cent of adults aged 18 to 70 suffered from diabetes in 2010, up from 8.2 per cent in 2004.

Dr Carol Tan-Goh, a specialist in geriatric medicine at Raffles Hospital, said many diseases that result in premature death and disability are preventable as they have modifiable risk factors, such as one's weight and diet.

Detecting diseases early can also allow better management before complications set in, she said. For example, wounds in diabetics heal slowly and can become infected if their diabetes is poorly controlled. This can lead to limb amputation.

People should go for regular check-ups and encourage their loved ones to do so too, Dr Tan-Goh advised.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital has an Evergreen Package for those aged 50 and above, which costs $328 per person and $628 per couple.

It includes a doctor's consultation, laboratory investigations such as a full blood count, a review by a doctor and lifestyle counselling. The doctor may order additional tests such as ultrasound scans and scopes. Call 6555-8828 to book an appointment.

Raffles Hospital has four screening packages for people aged 40 and above. They cost between $428 and $502.90.

Each package includes a consultation and review with a specialist, questionnaire evaluation, blood and vision tests and a screening report.

Pre-payment can be arranged with the hospital. For more information, call 6311-1222 or e-mail

5 Juicer

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, but some people may not like raw cut fruits or vegetables, so juicing them can be an alternative, suggested Dr Lewis Liew, a urologist at Gleneagles Medical Centre.

He added that drinking lots of fluid helps to flush out bacteria from the urinary tract system, thus preventing urinary tract infection from occurring and kidney stones from developing.

Still, one should bear in mind that there are more nutritional benefits from eating a whole fruit than drinking the juice, he cautioned.

Juicing results in fewer vitamins and minerals and reduces the fibre content as the pulp is removed.

At Takashimaya Department Store, the Hurom Slow Juicer is available for $618. A cheaper alternative is the Taiyo Juicer which is available for $39.90 at Metro Sengkang, Metro Woodlands and Metro City Square.

6 Sports watch

Whether your loved one is an endurance athlete or a casual runner, a sports watch will serve him well.

Dr Fadzil Hamzah, a resident physician at Changi Sports Medicine Centre at Changi General Hospital, said such devices typically come with a pedometer, speedometer, heart-rate monitor, calorimeter and stopwatch and serves as a wristwatch too.

A pedometer is used to record the total number of steps clocked in a day or during workouts and is especially useful for those who are aiming to shed some kilos.

To burn approximately 400 calories, one would need to take 10,000 steps a day, Dr Fadzil said.

The speedometer records the total distance travelled, total duration of a workout and average speed. Dr Fadzil said such data is useful for avid runners who track their mileage and speed.

The heart-rate monitor records the number of heart beats per minute and provides useful information on whether the individual is working out at the correct intensity, he added.

The Polar RC3 GPS watch is a wristwatch that has a speedometer, heart-rate monitor, calorimeter and stopwatch.

It also combines global positioning system (GPS) technology with a training guide that gives the user instant feedback after the exercise session. It is available at all Polar retailers for $399.

The Nike+ Sportwatch GPS has all the features that Dr Fadzil listed. It also sends reminders to the user when a run has not been logged in the past five days and recognises a user for achieving personal records, such as the fastest mile and longest run. It is available for $279 at selected Nike stores.

7 Sunblock

Many people in Asia take sun exposure lightly, said Dr Wong Soon Tee, a dermatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre. They think that problems such as wrinkling, pigmentation, thinning of the skin and skin cancer are due solely to the natural ageing process and nothing can be done to prevent them, he said.

But research has shown that cumulative exposure to the sun - specifically ultraviolet radiation (UV) from it - leads to cellular damage in the skin. This causes collagen and elastin fibres in the skin to break down and can eventually result in an aged appearance and skin cancer, he said.

Take protective measures, such as wearing hats, using umbrellas and applying sunscreen, he advised.

People should also minimise going out in the mid-day as much as possible, he added.

He said: "It is important to know that sun care needs to be a daily, year-round practice to avoid skin problems."

Pick sunscreen by looking at the sun protection factor (SPF), which blocks only UVB rays, or the rays that can burn the skin. The SPF number on a bottle of sunscreen shows you how many minutes it will protect you from UVB rays, depending on the hue of your skin.

Also, look out for the protection grade against UVA rays that ages the skin, indicated by the number of pluses (+) on the packaging.

A single plus (+) offers some protection against UVA while three pluses (+++) offers the greatest UVA protection.

Dr Wong recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 and one plus for routine daily activities such as strolling and grocery shopping. Activities such as hiking and golfing will require one with an SPF of at least 25 or higher, with two pluses.

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunblock SPF50+ is tested to be non-comedogenic (will not clog pores). An 88ml tube sells for $22.30 at selected Guardian Heath & Beauty stores.

Another sunscreen, Fruit Of The Earth Block Up!, costs between $8 and $10 for an 88ml tube at Watsons stores.

8 Massage chair

Many Singaporeans are high-strung. In a 2008 Hudson report, 48 per cent of respondents said that work-related stress had risen over the past year.

The 2010 Singapore Mental Health Study found that major depressive disorder affects one in 14 young people and one in 19 among those aged 30 and above.

Studies have shown that massage therapy alleviates depressive symptoms, lowers work-related stress levels and has a calming effect on the mind when a person is under acute stress, said Dr Thomas Lee, a consultant psychiatrist at Novena Specialist Centre.

As a person may not be able to head to a masseuse each time he is stressed, a massage chair is the next best option, he said.

Comfort and a good fit are the most important considerations when buying a massage chair, he added.

He explained: "The user must be able to feel completely relaxed in the chair.

"However, for those who have certain medical conditions, such as back problems or spinal deformities, it is best they get advice from their doctors regarding the use of massage chairs."

The latest massage chair by Osim, the uDivine App massage chair features 13 massage programs and has wireless connectivity to an Apple iPhone so that the user can surf the Internet or watch a movie with "surround" sound from the chair's built-in speakers. It is available for a promotional price of $5,588 (usual price: $6,088) and comes with a free gift of either the uPapa Music Sync upper body massager or uGalaxy eye massager. It is available at all Osim outlets, roadshows and at

Another massage chair, launched in June, is the Oto Cyber Indulge Upgrade, which has rollers that massage the head to the lower back in one continuous stretch. It is available for $2,880 at all Oto outlets.

9 Timesulin

Diabetics who require insulin injections to keep their blood glucose levels under control may sometimes lose track of their injections because these have become so routine.

Dr Warren Lee, a paediatric endocrinologist at Camden Medical Centre, said a double dose of insulin will cause one's blood glucose to drop suddenly, causing hypoglycaemia, which makes one feel faint, shivery and cold. In severe cases, the diabetic may lose consciousness and have an epileptic fit, he added.

A missed injection will cause blood glucose to shoot up, causing hyperglycaemia, which affects the mood and thinking processes in the short term and increases the risks of diabetic complications such as heart attack, stroke and kidney failure in the long term, he said.

He said a useful gift for someone who uses insulin pens is Timesulin, a device that replaces the existing cap on an insulin pen. After a jab, the timer on the device will reset, so the user can see when this jab was administered.

The device is made in Germany and imported here by businesswoman Aileen Lee, 37, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 13. She came across the device in June, while she was searching for a way to remind herself to take her jabs four times a day.

It is available in three different sizes to suit pens manufactured by pharmaceutical companies Novo Nordisk, Sanofi Aventis and Elli Lilly. Get it from for $59.90 for the first one and $53.90 for the second. Delivery is free in Singapore.

10 Your Heart Matters book

Heart disease is responsible for almost one in five deaths here and is the second leading cause of death here after cancer. This book is useful for heart patients as well as those who want to keep the disease at bay. It is recommended by the Singapore Heart Foundation (SHF).

The revised edition of Your Heart Matters: Answers For A Healthier Heart covers areas such as the causes of heart problems, ways to reduce risk and treatment options. Half the book is dedicated to promoting heart health through exercise and nutrition, for instance, how to make the right food choices to manage cholesterol levels. The 221-page book is written by Dr Mak Koon Hou, a cardiologist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, and nutrition consultant Louisa Zhang. Get it at the SHF office at 07-01 Junction 8 (Office Tower) for $25.

For Kids

11 Training chopsticks

The use of chopsticks is recommended for children over that of fork and spoon. Children move more muscles when they use chopsticks and the complex technique stimulates their brains and helps them concentrate, said DrGoh Siok Ying, a paediatrician at SBCC Baby and Child Clinic. Studies show that the use of chopsticks improves kids' dexterity, she added.

Learning to use them can be made easier for children with training chopsticks, she said. These chopsticks are designed to guide a child to position his fingers correctly and to hold the sticks parallel to each other, and not grasp them with his palm or let them form a cross.

Such chopsticks come in different colours and designs, making it fun for children to learn to eat with them, Dr Goh said.

Pigeon's training chopsticks ($6.90) come with a diagonal bridge to support a fixed distance and angle between the sticks. There is a thumb support to guide placement of the thumb. They have a bar to separate the fourth and last finger from the other three fingers to enhance mobility. They come in pink and green for right-handers and yellow for left-handers. They are available at Meidiya Supermarket, Giant hypermarkets, major department stores such as Isetan, Metro and Robinsons, and baby specialty stores such as Cheri Kids, Kiddy Palace and Toys R Us.

12 Moisturiser

Babies' skin is naturally supple, but it is also more pervious than adult skin and hence loses moisture more easily, said Dr Ong Eng Keow, a paediatrician at Mount Alvernia Medical Centre.

It is quite common to find babies with sensitive skin that is prone to rashes and flakiness and requires extra care, he added.

A simple solution would be to use moisturisers to prevent the skin from drying up. Dr Ong said the integrity of the skin needs to be maintained, like tiles on the roof, so impurities do not penetrate the skin.

He recommended a medical moisturiser called Physiogel, which uses technology that mimics the lipids found within the skin.

Studies have noted that the cream restores the natural lipid barrier function and increases skin moisture. In these ways, it regulates the transepidermal water loss, which is when moisture from deeper layers of the skin is drawn to the surface and evaporates.

Dr Ong said good skin moisturisers contain ceramides - fatty substances that retain moisture in the skin and keep it smooth and glowing - and do not contain any preservatives or fragrances.

Physiogel cream is available at major pharmacies, hospitals and selected clinics. A 75ml tube costs $24 while a 150ml tube costs $43.

13 Allergy alert bracelet

Strict avoidance of allergenic food is the only way to prevent a possibly fatal reaction in children with food allergies, said Dr Dawn Lim, a paediatrician at private paediatric clinic chain Kinder Clinic.

But parents cannot be by their children's side all the time to guard against this. And the children may be unable to fully explain their food allergies to other people and may not know what to do if they accidentally ingest food that triggers their allergies, she said.

She advised parents and caregivers to let such children wear allergy alert bracelets all the time so people around them know what food they cannot eat.

This bracelet can be made at any store that can engrave details on a bracelet. These should include the child's name, the food to avoid, the person to contact in an emergency and the type of medication to give if the child ingests the allergenic food, Dr Lim said.

Parents can also buy allergy wristbands online. The Allerbling wristband displays a child's allergic food with colourful iconic symbols. It can be customised by inserting charms in five holes on the wristband.

A full kit costs US$18 (S$22) and comprises a small and large band, a medical alert charm and eight charms for the most common allergens (peanut, tree nut, egg, soya, wheat, dairy, shellfish and fish). It is available at

14 Anti-dustmite pillowcase and mattress covers

Dustmites are the most common allergen in the Singapore environment. They cause allergies of the lungs (asthma), nose (allergic rhinitis) and skin (eczema), said Dr Dawn Lim, a paediatrician at private paediatric clinic chain Kinder Clinic.

A child with allergic rhinitis may sneeze frequently and have a runny, itchy and blocked nose, while one with eczema may feel itchy all the time and sleep poorly. Such children have to avoid dustmites to improve their symptoms, Dr Lim stressed.

Parents and caregivers should always opt for anti-dustmite covers for such children, she advised.

These are made of closely woven materials that "trap" the dustmites in the pillows and mattresses and prevent the allergic person from coming into contact with them.

At Takashimaya department store, the NatureGuard anti-dustmite pillow protector is available for $29.90 while the anti-dustmite mattress protector costs from $99 to $179, depending on its size.

At Metro department stores, the King Koil anti-bedbug mattress protector costs between $59 and $89, depending on size. Both the King Koil pillow and bolster protector are available for $29 each.

15 Xbox Kinect/ Nintendo Wii games

Get children moving with virtual sports and movement games using motion-sensing consoles. Some studies have concluded that certain virtual-reality games, such as Wii Boxing and Dance Dance Revolution, can raise the heart rate and provide exercise at intensity levels high enough to meet physical activity guidelines, said DrFadzil Hamzah, a resident physician at Changi Sports Medicine Centre at Changi General Hospital.

So playing such games may help people satisfy the National Physical Activity Guidelines laid out by the Health Promotion Board last year, he said.

The guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly to reduce the risk of obesity and illnesses such as heart disease and colon cancer. During such activity, people should still be able to talk but not sing.

The Xbox 360 Kinect 4GB Holiday Bundle comprises the console, Kinect sensor, wireless controller, three games and a one-month Xbox Live Gold membership. It is available for $469 at major electronics stores such as Harvey Norman and Courts.

The Nintendo Wii console costs $199 at selected Challenger stores. One of its games, Wii Fit Plus, costs $159

For the Elderly

16 Reacher with power grip hooks

Empower elderly people - especially those with mobility problems - with an extended arm.

A reacher with power grip hooks can help them pick up items from the floor and retrieve things from difficult-to-reach areas such as under the bed and behind the cupboard.

Dr Terence Tang, head and senior consultant at the department of geriatric medicine at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), said the reacher requires little hand strength for the elderly to manoeuvre. It saves them the back-breaking task of bending down to pick up items.

Stooping may predispose them to back injuries and falls.

Buy a reacher that has adjustable underarm support, which takes the weight off the wrists, Dr Tang advised.

It should also be lightweight, robust and wear-resistant, he added.

A reacher is available for $38.70 at The Able Studio at KTPH.

17 Non-skid slippers

The choice of footwear is key to keeping a person stable on his feet - and may save his life.

A study by the Hua Mei Mobile Clinic, a charity under the Tsao Foundation, found that 778 out of 1,000 old folks had fallen - a third fell in the bathroom and another third while walking - causing many to suffer from broken hips.

Dr Lawrence Tan, a consultant at the department of geriatric medicine at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), said: "Of these, some will die within a year of fracture. Those who survive will have reduced mobility."

People should wear non-skid footwear, typically those with rubber soles which provide a better grip of the floor, to cut their risk of falling, he advised.

For comfort, they should go for footwear with larger openings for the ankles. This is especially important to accommodate people with large ankles or oedema (abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin), he added. Oedema can occur due to heart, kidney or liver failure and can also be a side effect of medication. It can be eased by elevating the feet, using compression stockings or taking medication, but can recur.

Non-skid slippers made of terrycloth with latex-free rubber soles are sold at The Able Studio at KTPH for $21.40. They are available in small (dark pink), medium (blue), large (beige) and extra large (dark pink).

18 Jar opener

Most people have no problem twisting the lid off a jar of peanut butter. But a lack of strength can hinder the elderly from doing so, said Dr Lawrence Tan, a consultant at the department of geriatric medicine at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH).

Seniors may also have arthritis, which results in their joints becoming swollen, stiff and painful, he said. This will make movements difficult and reduce the range of motion, he explained. So opening and closing jars become uphill tasks for them, especially those whose arthritis affects the wrists and hands, he added.

A jar opener with built-in grippers can make the twisting action required to open jars and prescription bottles much easier, Dr Tan said. Look out for a jar opener that can fit a few different lid sizes, he advised. It should be lightweight, with rubberised plastic gaskets to grip the sides of the lid. The Easy Twist jar opener costs $25.20 at The Able Studio at KTPH.

19 Elder-friendly nail clipper

Trimming the nails is challenging for an elderly person who has poor vision, vertigo or tremors, said Dr Terence Tang, head and senior consultant at the department of geriatric medicine at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH). A person with vertigo feels that the room is spinning. It can be caused by problems in the brain or inner ear.

Tremors are involuntary quivering movements, most frequently in the hands. Having them can be a symptom of a neurological disorder such as Parkinson's disease.

A nail clipper that has a magnifier and a "groove" box to collect cut nails would be useful for such seniors, Dr Tang said. The magnifying glass lowers the risk of the person accidentally clipping his fingers and toes, which can become infected, while the box keeps cut nails from flying all over, making nail-clipping more hygienic, he added. Pick a nail clipper with an adjustable magnifying glass and wide and textured grips that make holding the clipper easy, he advised. Such a product is available for $7.45 at The Able Studio at KTPH.

20 Protein supplements

Age-related loss of muscle mass, called sarcopaenia, is less known than bone loss from osteoporosis, said

Dr Carol Tan-Goh, a specialist in geriatric medicine at Raffles Hospital. But the condition can give rise to gait and balance problems and put the elderly at an increased risk of falls.

Overseas studies show that sarcopaenia affects more than 20 per cent of those aged 60 to 70 and half of those over 75 years old. While consuming protein can combat this, the elderly may be less inclined to chew on meat due to poor dentition, she said. One way to get round this is to take protein supplements, said Ms Bibi Chia, head dietitian of health and nutrition centre Live Wise at Novena Medical Centre. Such supplements are different from those that athletes consume, which have other ingredients that the elderly do not require, such as caffeine, Ms Chia said.

If your elderly relative or friend has lost weight in the last three months, is underweight or not eating well, it is likely that they require protein supplements too, Ms Chia said. However, those with kidney disease should seek medical advice before using such supplements.

Resource Beneprotein is a pure protein powder supplement which can be mixed into beverages and soft food. Sold at $20 per 227g can, it is available at selected hospital retail pharmacies and upon request at Unity and Guardian Health & Beauty pharmacies. Ensure Life, a nutritional supplement, is available at supermarkets, hypermarkets and retail and hospital pharmacies, at $16.80 for a 400g tin and $34.40 for a 900g tin.


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