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Does hot weather make us less fit?

Does hot weather make us less fit?



Geography is what most people understand to be the study of where countries are. That's why not knowing where a country is on a map will result in your friends saying, "Never study geography ah?"

Of course, geography is deeper and more complex than just finding countries and cities on a map. It also involves studying a country's features such as mountains, lakes and rivers, and most importantly, peoples.

We won't dive into all this. Instead, we'll get into how Singapore's geography determines its climate and how this in turn influences our lifestyle.

maarten-duineveld-pmfJcN7RGiw-unsplash-resized.thumb.jpg.062653b743d0bf3f268836981a0a9354.jpgPhoto: Maarten Duineveld, Unsplash

Swedish observation

Singapore sits just above the equator, so you might say that our two most abundant resources are the sun and its heat.

Anyway, during a work trip to Sweden some years ago, a fellow journalist and I noticed many locals doing a variety of outdoor sports. From cycling to running to tennis, it seemed like everyone had an active lifestyle.

"It must be the weather. The climate is so cool that even I want to pick up a tennis racquet!" he remarked.

As we drove along, I remembered my geography classes in school. How citizens of a country live - this is very much influenced by its climate. Obviously, Sweden is way up in the northern hemisphere and gets plenty of snow in the winter, which explains why it's a cold country.

Indeed, it was cold for the first week of October, which was when the trip took place. I recall temperatures only reaching 12 degrees during the day, dropping to around 4 degrees Celsius at night. Walking, running and cycling would certainly feel shiok in this weather.

giorgio-parravicini-12IHVEFRacQ-unsplash-resized.thumb.jpg.80db95e2d2f730a663771e98e5fd418d.jpgThe weather lately feels desert-like. Photo: Giorgio Parravicini, Unsplash

Meanwhile, in the sweltering tropics...

It's only going to get hotter in Singapore. Numerous temperature and UV warnings have been issued, and the wet and cool weather we enjoyed for a prolonged period last year has long departed. We can only hope it will visit again.

Life doesn't stop just because it's hot. However, it also makes exercising outdoors - and being active in general - unappealing. Combined with high humidity, it's not uncommon to hear people complain that they're already sweating after walking to the bus stop below their block. 
If you're from a temperate country and have never been to the tropics, you probably think I'm exaggerating. Well, come to our corner of the world and feel for yourself.

So, hot weather prevents us from exercising? Of course not. Many of us are quite outdoorsy and don't even mind getting tanned (but please apply sunscreen to mitigate skin damage). But the heat tends to make us lazy.

redd-f-lEKN0Vd257k-unsplash-resized.thumb.jpg.a9159d7ebe25132cb2d674ac5c1f03e6.jpgCooler weather makes commuting more comfortable, like these folks in Tokyo. Photo: Redd F, Unsplash

Nobody wants to sweat while walking 10 minutes from the office to the hawker centre. So, we'll either drive there or get a private-hire ride. Nobody enjoys sweaty commutes requiring one to walk while transferring from air-conditioned buses and trains. Yes, yes, I know. First World problems.

I think this 'problem' though, is one factor that prevents us from becoming fitter. Those of us who've holidayed in Tokyo during spring or fall know that you can easily clock 20,000 steps a day when you're there, probably without breaking a sweat. It must be why everyone there looks so slim.

Cooler climes make it more comfortable to do such things. Tampines MRT station is less than 2km from my house, but if I started walking to it at 9am, I hope shower facilities appear in the office by the time I arrive.

With cooler weather, more people would walk and cycle as well, since the impact to one's hygiene will be minimal. If commuting becomes pleasant, we might even drive less, thereby lowering emissions and our vehicle's running costs.

peijia-li-AIWSvNU38H8-unsplash-resized.thumb.jpg.8ce92c21efd2d156556d97ca45d23d7d.jpgPhoto: Peijia Lee, Unsplash

Will it really improve health?

The optimistic answer to this is yes, cooler weather will make us more active and therefore, fitter.

According to this HealthHub article, the crude prevalence of obesity among residents aged 18-74 years old is 10.5%. This is based on a 2019/2020 National Population Health Survey.

But it's too simplistic to conclude that cooler weather will change lifestyle and health trends. Does everyone become healthier/fitter during the cooler and wetter periods?

Based on casual observations and conversations, we actually end up eating and drinking more when the weather is cool. Mala hotpot, already a firm favourite, becomes even more irresistible then. Whisky seems 'less heaty' as well. In general, we tend to get hungrier and thirstier the colder we feel.

It's all in the mind

We can't change our geography, so we can only surmise that if we had a more temperate climate, we'd be more active. I don't think we need single-digit temperatures, but if our weather ranged between 15-20 degrees Celsius on average and humidity also averaged 60% instead of over 90%, a lot would change.

karsten-winegeart-eGSBVVtVCCw-unsplash-resized.thumb.jpg.ea3fdc7697a6ebe0a5fe2e37ac80c2e7.jpgTraining in hot weather can help improve your cardiovascular fitness. Photo: Karsten Winegeart, Unsplash

But would it make us fitter? That might be wishful thinking. Beyond lifestyle and dining habits, mindsets are the most difficult to change. Someone who only insists on high-cholesterol, high-sodium and sugar-heavy foods for every meal is unlikely to change their mind, no matter the weather, or impact to his or her health.

I mention food because nutrition makes up a big part of the fitness equation. While exercising regularly (even with poor dietary habits) is better than not exercising at all, we all know that the key to better health is diet + exercise. That's never been a secret.

To me, that means healthier choices from Mondays to Fridays, but indulging a bit on weekends. Being more willing to sweat it out will help as well. Instead of taking cover from the heat, I've learned (or convinced myself) to use it to improve my fitness.

Hot weather is here to stay. It's our geography and we must do what humans do best: Adapt and thrive.

- Jeremy 


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I thot hot weather makes us naturally fitter!

Just go out and my whole shirt wet.

Its like sweat so much after a long run without the running!

All that weight loss from sweating makes us fitter right?


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No wonder Singapore lose to China. because we sit above the equator mah! :grin:

And no wonder joseph schooling win gold medal. He train and swim in US. hahahah 

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The long distance running champions from the African continents say NO!

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