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Meet Tangram's Health & Fitness Specialist, Anna Kwan

Anna Kwan, Tangram Wellness's new Health & Fitness Specialist, has had a whirlwind first month in Singapore and is already bringing her passion for all things fitness to women across the city, as well as thinking about her own athletic goals for the coming year. To help you get to know her a bit better, I've asked Anna ten questions about training, food, and her new life on the Little Red Dot. 

You've just moved from the UK to Southeast Asia- that's a big leap! What brought you to Singapore?
My husband and I have always had our hearts set on living in Southeast Asia; his family are from Hong Kong and I’ve been really keen to learn more about his heritage. We decided on Singapore over Hong Kong in the end due to the lifestyle factors and Nigel (my husband) secured a job here.

How long have you been involved in health & fitness? What attracted you to this field?
I’ve always been keen on Health Sciences since studying Human Biology at university. Back then I was a competitive swimmer and exercise was already a huge part of my life. It seemed obvious to combine the two. I got certified with the American College of Sports medicine for Personal Training straight after I graduated from university and have been working in this field ever since.

Tell me about your approach to fitness.
I believe a varied approach to fitness is the best. In the past I’ve focused solely on individual sports like swimming, triathlon and marathons but this has unfortunately often resulted in injury from overtraining. Nowadays I like to carefully combine a number of disciplines which compliment running such as yoga, core work and weight training to keep me balanced and injury free.

You've worked with hundreds of clients over the years. Any memorable moments or success stories you can share?
It has To be the first client I trained up for a marathon. My client Joe was an ex-boxer with numerous injuries but had his heart set on competing in the New York Marathon! He’d never attempted long distance running but after months of hard work with a bespoke training regime and constantly battling reoccurring injuries, he succeeded in completing the marathon in 3hrs 30 mins! It was an emotional journey that we both will always remember.

You're a marathoner and triathlete. Are you thinking about participating in any events in Asia, even with the heat? What has been your favorite race so far?
I would love to participate in some events out here. I’ve got to be honest, the heat will be a challenge but something I can overcome I’m sure after I’ve acclimatised first. I’ve heard lots of good things about the Angkor Wat Half Marathon and couldn’t imagine a more picturesque race! My favourite race has to be the London Marathon as there’s something so special about racing in your own city with family and friends supporting you. It’s always a great event come rain or shine and receives so much support.

We've got a lot of people in Singapore preparing now for the Standard Chartered Marathon and Ankor Wat Half Marathon. What's your advice for a successful race?
Apart from getting the miles in, I’d always advise clients to focus much more on stretching during their training. Overuse injuries are so common during marathon training and can be soul destroying if it jeopardises the big event. I also encourage clients to focus more on their diets during training. Maintaining good nutrition throughout the training programme will build muscle and help repair injuries faster and a carefully devised pre-race nutrition plan is essential and can make the difference between a good or bad race.

What's your favorite food? Have you found a restaurant in Singapore you love yet?
I’m a huge foodie and love the range of cuisines on offer here in Singapore! I adore Asian cooking, anything with zingy and fresh flavours gets my vote. My favourite so far is Kilo Lounge, which I’d highly recommend.

What are you most looking forward to about living here?
The amazing climate! Coming from London it’s so lovely to be constantly warm even if it’s grey!  I love how everything is geared to the outdoor lifestyle it’s fantastic to be able to be outside all the time.

Singapore is a massive foodie culture- we're obsessed with eating out! How can one maintain their weight and fitness with all this amazing food around? Give us some tips!
It is very difficult with the amount of good food on our doorsteps. It’s about being in control and having a balanced approach. I know there’s so much temptation! I’d say try whenever possible to eat dishes with fresh ingredients and plenty of vegetables. Almost all cuisines have their healthy dishes, obviously avoid fried foods, buttery sauces and opt for lean grilled fish and meat.

What's your best piece of wisdom for someone on the path to greater fitness?
You’re not on this planet for long and being fit and healthy is as much in your mind as it is in your body.  If you want it, you can achieve it. But most of all have fun doing it!

Thanks, Anna! If you have a fitness question for Anna or would like to make an appointment for a consultation, email her at


Substituting Your Habits

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Substituting Your Habits

Steep climb, incredible view.

Steep climb, incredible view.

When I began my journey to quit smoking and drinking five years ago, I felt like the anchor that tethered my sense of self to the Earth had been violently yanked out from the sea bottom and hurled into outer space. There I was, drifting through the atmosphere, angry, nauseous and directionless. Smoking and drinking had been a ritual for many years, my bookends to each day.  As soon as I woke up, I’d pour myself a cup of coffee and sit on my patio stoop in my pajamas with a pack of cigarettes and a stinky glass ashtray. On my morning walk to the train, I’d puff away, rushing to finish before I reached the platform. After work was done, I could officially relax when I poured my first drink around 7pm— almost always a glass of wine in my kitchen or at a neighborhood bar. My pack of cigarettes would be emptied between the first glass and the last, and I’d usually drag myself to the convenience store just before bedtime to buy another pack for the next morning. Day in and day out, these were the habits that set the pulse of my life. Deciding to give it all up was like losing both my identity and my oxygen. There were times when I just swung there, suffocating in space. The deprivation was overwhelming.

In those first few raw weeks, I began to figure out that running around the block whenever I wanted to smoke or drink would alleviate some of the physical and mental discomfort I was experiencing. This was my personal introduction to the concept of “habit substitution,” one of the primary techniques of behavior modification. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that running around the block was molding me into an actual runner (and eventually, a marathoner), and that runners generally don’t smoke and drink to excess, and that I was starting to feel better. By substituting a bad habit with one that is healthier or more positive, it's very difficult to continue to embrace the negative behavior. Can you imagine crossing the finish line with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other? Or racing with an ashtray mouth and a hangover? Not going to happen.

When it comes to breaking habits, too many well-intentioned people dole out the same tired advice about “willpower” and “white knuckling it” and “toughening up.” For many of us, deprivation is just a short cut to another failed attempt. Substitution, however, has shown success across all types of habits. If you’re looking to change your behavior and in essence, your life (after all, we are our habits), here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Divert yourself from your bad habit by substituting it for a more positive one that is somewhat similar in execution, movement or sensation. Smoking was my primary bad habit, and it often triggered my urge to drink. The two eventually went hand in hand. With both, I was inhaling deeply, engaged in movement and allowed some quiet time to explore my mind. I’m a fidgety, high-energy person, and smoking and drinking gave me something to do. Similarly, running gets me in touch with my breath while burning off excess energy, and giving me time to be alone with my thoughts. In “The Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg writes that “to change an old habit you must address an old craving. You have to keep the same cues and rewards as before, and feed the craving by inserting a new routine.” So, if you eat habitually after work, you may wish to try investing in a juicer and making yourself a fresh squeezed, tasty juice to indulge in instead. If you’re snacking at your office desk to cope with stress, consider doing a quick set of pushups whenever the urge strikes.
  • Find a community that embraces your new habit and join them! If you’ve decided to take up running, for instance, there are many runners groups from beginner to advanced levels sprinkled across Singapore. Here’s a list to get you started. If dancing is more your speed, take up some classes to keep yourself on track and make supportive new friends. There are groups for any positive habit these days, whether it be weightlifting, knitting, swimming, meditation, juicing, rock climbing or even parachuting. If you're worried about being new and not knowing what you're doing, remember that EVERYONE starts EVERYTHING they do at the very beginning.
  • Be gentle on yourself. If a new behavior doesn’t stick, try something else.  There’s no reason to beat yourself up. Changing bad habits takes time. It took me a full year between deciding to quit smoking and drinking and actually quitting smoking and drinking for good. While some people are able to quit their bad habits “cold turkey,” they are in the minority. For most, it requires trial and error, patience, and persistence. Make a creative list of some habits you’d like to adopt and activities you’d be interested in trying. You never know what you might become!


Have a question or comment about habits? I'd love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments section.  


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