Is sitting the new smoking?

In recent months I have been reading on Natural News and elsewhere two different health tips:

  • One should walk 10,000 steps per day
  • One should not sit for long periods – either get up at least once every 20 minutes or so, or just stand and do what you would normally do sitting – using the computer, working in the office etc.

Then, last night I heard an interview podcast with Dr. Joseph Mercola on Red Ice Radio, who also discussed the same topics.

From this article on what 10 everyday items to throw out, Dr. Mercola lists your chair as No. 10:

“While I placed this last, mounting research clearly reveals that your chair may actually be one of the most dangerous items to have around for your health. Prolonged sitting has repeatedly been shown to be an independent risk factor for chronic disease and early demise, even if you exercise regularly and are very fit. That’s right; exercise cannot undo the damage caused by hours of daily sitting, just like it cannot undo the harm done by smoking.  

Along with obesity, sitting is the new smoking, increasing your risk for lung cancer by more 50 percent.20 Who would have guessed that sitting is far more dangerous than second hand smoke? Sitting has been found to increase your risk of death from virtually all health problems,21,22 from type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease to cancer and all-cause mortality. And, the less you exercise, the more pronounced the detrimental effects of sitting.  

What’s the solution?

Stand up as much as possible. A standing desk is one option. Barring that, make sure you stand up at regular intervals during work hours. For a number of other tips and tricks, see my previous article, “Tips for Staying Active in the Office.” As a general rule, if you’ve been sitting for one hour, you’ve sat too long. At bare minimum, avoid sitting for more than 50 minutes out of every hour. If you don’t already have a fitness tracker, it may be money well spent to get one. I recommend aiming for 7,000 to 10,000 steps per day, over and above any exercise regimen you may have. I was probably doing 2,000 steps a day prior to using a fitness tracker, and now I am up to about 15,000 steps a day or about eight miles.

For many, simply getting and staying out of your chair is a first step that can bring you closer to a healthier lifestyle. As you become more used to low level, non-exercise activity, you’re more likely to get motivated enough to start exercising more vigorously. “

To this end I installed an Android app called Runtastic, which counts how many steps you make.  Limitations are that the free version will only allow one session per day, so if the phone restarts you lose what you have counted so far, but cannot start again to the next day.  After monitoring myself for a week, I find I do about 7,000 steps per day if I go for a walk somewhere.  Dr. Mercola says 7,000 is enough actually.

And, apart from driving, or watching a film, I do try to stand.  If my legs or feet get tired I sit for a short while, and then get up again.  I’m not sure  how to judge if this is good for me. So, after a week or two I notice no difference – but I feel virtuous.  As I write this today at 10PM, I have done just over 10,000 steps and 7.2 KM since I remembered to turn on the app about 10AM. So in reality probably over 11,000 steps.




for that late autumn feeling in Penang…

If you would like a bit of that late autumn feeling in Penang, although admittedly rather too warm for autumn and it’s February, head over to the small river near Sussex House.  Cross the river on the bridge from the Sussex House car park…

1-2015-02-07 15.48.36 (Copy)

the bridge you cross

… and you can wander among the bare deciduous trees with their fallen  leaves underfoot.

desciduous trees

deciduous trees

crunchy fallen leaves

crunchy fallen leaves

desciduous trees

deciduous trees

warm "autumnish" sunshine

warm “autumnish” sunshine

warm "autumnish" sunshine

warm “autumnish” sunshine

unfinished blogs – no. 11 – What health ideas have worked for me and what haven’t

I’ve been writing this blog for three years this month, and have accumulated many partially written blogs that remain unpublished. I may as well just publish them as is, and if I ever feel inspired to finish any, do so later.


June 26th, 2013

Everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another.  This article is about what works for me.

fasting –
cupping –
PLR, acupuncture, reiki –
colloidal silver –
sun gazing –

oil pulling –




Keeping happy and healthy in the tropics

Recently Tropical Expat had another birthday, and entered a new decade.  I am told I am not older – just more mature.  But I actually feel physically and mentally  better than I have for many years.  And that’s not to say I wasn’t feeling good previously – before I was feeling good, anyway.

So, what am I doing? I mostly eat healthily, drink moderately, exercise, meditate, sleep well, get sunshine on my body most days, do oil pulling first thing in the morning, study (German) to keep my mind active, read a variety of material from magazines to novels to non-fiction, watch some films, minimise stress, socialise, fast occasionally…

What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, and what is effective at one stage of one’s life, isn’t necessarily effective at another.


I more or less eat a Paleo diet, with small infractions occasionally (such as a small plate of potato crisps once a month or so).  The pleasure one gains from small infractions far outweighs the minimal damage, and total denial of what you like is not a positive thing.  I even had ice cream about six times this year.

Mostly I try only to eat when I am hungry, and drink a glass or two of water beforehand.

Tropical fruit is great, but I limit the amount, and vary the variety; and I eat it with cream, with protects my teeth and body from the sugar.  That’s what I tend to eat in the morning.

Later in the day I may have some cheese, or some leftovers.  And at dinner vegetables, or sometimes a salad, with some cooked meat, fish or chicken, and plenty of butter or other healthy fat.  Occasionally an omelette.


I try to drink a couple of glasses of water after waking, a glass  before sleeping and before meals, and some throughout the day.  Without forcing myself. But you really do need to drink enough water in the tropics. Water is first filtered by the house filter, then the kitchen filter, and then energised by the sun for a couple of hours.

At least one glass of wine or beer or something a day is good for you, I believe, without overdoing it.


I swim and spend a short time in the gym about three times a week, and on other days try to take a short walk.  I would like to cycle, but in Penang it is too dangerous. While at the gym I use the sauna.


I am rubbish at meditating, but hope one day to become better.  A few minutes first thing in the morning is all that I manage.


I sleep as much as I need, which is about eight hours a night, or if less, then a daytime nap. Although I have more than enough things to do, getting enough sleep is a priority.


I have never believed that sunshine is bad for you and that one must cover one’s skin with sun lotion or avoid the sun.  Your skin is your body’s biggest organ, and sun lotions are chemical cocktails.  It would not surprise me that these chemicals cause skin cancer. Sunshine allows your body to make Vitamin D, which is very necessary. In the tropics you should be able to get enough sun throughout the year.  I just don’t overdo it and get burnt.  And that’s all one needs to do.

If you are going out in the sun for a while, you have to be aware of heat exhaustion.  If I walk when it is hot, I wear a hat, drink water, and if I start to feel overheated I find a cool place to rest.  A bank, a store etc. works, as does some tree shade.


The first thing I do in the morning is oil pulling. This helps remove toxins from my body and helps protect and repair teeth and gums.  From 10 to 20 minutes is enough, and I do other things at the same time.


One should keep one’s mind active.  When working one does anyway. When retired there are many ways of doing this. I like to study languages. “On average, elderly bilinguals will show symptoms of dementia five years later than monolinguals, and if they’ve learned more than two languages, then the effects are even stronger, ” which I just read in a book on studying languages.


Reading also keeps the mind active, and I have so many books I want to read that I doubt I will ever get through them all.  I borrow books from the library and read ebooks.


One of the great things in Penang is that the cinema is very affordable, also gives a discount to over-55’s, costs RM1 to park at for up to 3 hours, and is not crowded weekdays. It’s nice to watch the latest films.


Stress is a major killer, and when working, hard to avoid.  Of course, not all stress is bad. Keeping life interesting gives you good stress.  Being retired gives minimal stress.  The most stressful thing in Penang is driving.  I try to avoid busy times to minimise this.


It’s good to socialise sometimes – in person and over the Internet.


I feel good too, because I am keeping my weight down. Being in the tropics means that one’s body retains more water than in temperate climes, which elevates the weight and increases flabbiness a bit.  Should my weight increase I just don’t eat until my weight has decreased to my maximum target weight.  Two or three times a year I fast, which eliminates toxins, and knocks off some weight.

This is what I do. It works for me.




Recovery from seasonal illness

Tropical Expat has been laid low for almost a month with some sort of flu, caught possibly while travelling on the trains in Malaysia.  As usual I waited for it to go away, with no treatment, but it didn’t. The fever did, but occasionally came back for a few hours after a few days. This blog is about how I treated it, and recovered.

As an aside,  I have thus been unable to research material for writing blogs, as I have been at home except for grocery shopping, and cancelled all social engagements and outings.


  • a great amount of dry coughing
  • light fever occasionally
  • no natural recovery over time


Around 4th October I had a headache, light fever, and coughing, but I “recovered” the next day, only to have it return with a vengeance about three days later.  A few days later I “recovered” again, and then it soon returned, and stayed, so by Thursday 11th October the coughing was quite bad.  I still expected to recover naturally, so did no treatment.  The following Thursday 18th I was coughing so badly that the coughing caused back damage, and from then on any coughing was painful.

As a result on Monday 22nd I finally went to the hospital, as described in an earlier blog of mine.

The general idea from both doctors I saw was to treat and cure the cough, and thus the cause of continual back pain will be removed and the back will be able to recover. I was prescribed these medicines (on the left side) for the cough.

so many medicines!!!

Klacid MR – Clarithromycin – obviously an antibiotic – one a day for five days

Mucosolvon – Ambroxol – one tablet three times a day for one week

Fluimucil – Acetylcysteine – one tablet once a day for one week

A cough syrup – three times a day for a week


I took the medicines as prescribed, and a week later I was feeling a little better.  But from then I was on my own, as I didn’t see much point returning to the doctor, and didn’t notice any dramatic results from the medicines.

I did all the following, so I can’t say which were the most effective, but in combination they seemed to help:

  • fasting or light eating – mainly fruit.  This meant my body spent less energy on digestion, and more on healing. As I was using little energy staying at home, I hardly needed much food.
  • sunshine for at least 10 minutes a day
  • using the nebuliser with colloidal silver several times a day. I couldn’t inhale deeply as this caused coughing fits, which caused my back much pain, but gradually as my lungs cleared up I could inhale more deeply, which would make it more effective, too.  For more on colloidal silver see here and here and here.  Colloidal silver is a natural anti-biotic, and after I used it my lungs cleared out some stuff, so it felt effective.  I bought the Omron nebuliser in Gurney Plaza, in a shop near Cold Storage.


  • Oil pulling – which removes toxins from your mouth, and thus your body, so gives your immune system more chance to heal you.  I use coconut oil, and generally did it once a day until I was recovering well, when I increased the frequency to twice or three times a day.
  • Reiki. Being a Reiki master myself, naturally I did this on myself.
  • Ginko nuts – bought at Pulau Tikus market – are good for coughs.
  • Persimmon – bought at Pulau Tikus market – are also good for coughs.
  • I tried to sleep when possible, but it was painful for me to lie down, so unfortunately I couldn’t sleep well or as much as I wanted.
  • Coughing was least painful when I sat down in an average height solid chair. Lying down or standing up, or sitting on a soft sofa or a mattress was much more painful, thus causing more damage to my back.  I had to rush to a chair when I was about to cough.

So in the five days since I finished the medicines and used the above treatments on myself I have experienced a strong recovery, with my lungs clearing out, and being able to inhale much more deeply.

Sunrises and sunsets of 2012

I love the sun.  I have always tried to spend time in the sun.  And fortunately I haven’t ever been very diligent in applying sunscreen, which we now know is largely the cause of the melanomas, skin cancer and other problems.  I have mostly been sensible and not got burnt too often, although over the years it sometimes has happened. We also now know that the sun, and the Vitamin D it provides, gives so many health benefits – which sunscreens filter out, of course.  I basically really didn’t believe all the propaganda against the sun because I just felt the sun was good. Look at Natural News  and Mercola for many articles on the health benefits of the sun.

And I love the beauty of sunrises and sunsets.  Every day, if i can, I try to catch both.  Here are a few of the photos I have taken over the period from the winter solstice 2011 to the summer solstice 2012.

Firstly, this sunrise is taken just after the winter solstice, at Gurney Drive,  Penang, in the direction of George Town…

Gurney Drive Penang

Oops – missed the equinox. This is sunrise looking east from Kuala Besut on the Malaysian east coast…

Kuala Besut sunrise

Then a sunset from Perhentian Island, off the east coast of Malaysia…

Perhentian sunset

And you can just walk across the island from where the sun sets to see the sunrise…

Perhentian sunrise

And now let’s jump continents to Australia – where I saw many great sunrises and sunsets. Firstly, Margaret River, Western Australia…

Margaret River sunset

Next, a couple of thousand kilometers north, a sunset in Broome, taken from the plane just before landing…

Broome sunset

Then, still in Broome, a couple of sunset photos taken from Cable Beach…

Cable Beach sunset, Broome

And with camels…

camels returning home

And finally, before leaving Broome, a sunrise – but from the west side of the peninsula…

sunrise at Cable Beach, Broome

And now a few thousand kilometres away –  to Adelaide, and a sunset…

Adelaide sunset

I only caught this by accident – I was travelling from the city to the suburbs in an older train carriage that had no electronic display showing the next station – so I missed my station, and had to alight at the next one and return. As a result the timing was perfect to catch this scene. But now over to Victoria, heading in the direction of Melbourne from the west, and a sunrise…

KFC sunrise

The same sunrise with the Colonel…

KFC sunrise

From deep in the south of Victoria comes this next sunset…

Lakes Entrance, Victoria, sunset

And now much further north, in south N.S.W, and a sunset…

Merimbula sunset

And a little further north, a sunrise in Narooma, N.S.W…

Narooma sunrise

But I was pretty cold while on the beach taking a lot of sunrise photos.   And now a sunset in Sydney, overlooking Middle Harbour…

sunset in Sydney

Now, back in Penang, Malaysia, the sunset the evening before the summer solstice…

just before summer solstice, Penang

The morning of the solstice was very hazy, and this was the best I could get…

solstice sunrise, Penang

and sunset on the evening of the solstice…

summer solstice sunset

Why retire to Malaysia?


Malaysia, particularly Penang,  is a great place to retire to.

A beach in Penang near where I once lived

I am often asked, either by locals in Malaysia, or other people when I am travelling, why we chose Malaysia.  Here are some of my criteria for choosing a country, in no particular order:

  • warm and sunny
  • close to the beach
  • affordable
  • retirement visa conditions reasonable
  • freedom
  • safe / low crime
  • convenient for travel abroad
  • easy for friends to visit
  • good food
  • language learnable or English widely understood
  • culture
  • health insurance / health system good
  • expat community

Malaysia rates well on most of them.   Some countries are obviously better for some categories, but on balance we chose Malaysia.  As for where in Malaysia – we thought the main choices were:

  • Langkawi-it’s duty-free – but apart from that and its beaches it doesn’t tick enough boxes;
  • Penang – a smallish tropical island seemed to be the best compromise;
  • Kuala Lumpur- quite good on some aspects, but no beaches, gridlock traffic and more expensive;
  • Melaka – nice but quite small;
  • and the east coast – much less developed, very Islamic to the extent you can’t even get  beer easily in many places, not much western culture, and not many expats.

So how is Penang with regards to those criteria? Sure, it’s warm, often hot, and often sunny, and when there are  few cool days it’s quite a relief.

There are certainly beaches, and it’s easy enough to live very close to one, but swim at your peril – I’m talking jellyfish and pollution.  A little effort would solve these problems, but none is made.  Beaches, however, if you choose the right ones, are nice to walk along, or relax on.  Choose the wrong one and you’re knee-deep in rubbish.

Life is affordable.  I suppose it costs about 20% of the cost of living in London. Cars and alcohol are highly taxed, however.  If you get a MM2H visa, you may buy or import one car duty-free, which eases the pain.

Condo facilities can be quite good

The Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) retirement visa is quite good – probably only the retirement visa for Panama is better.  There are good visa agents who will do all that is necessary so it is quite painless to apply.  However, the government is always tinkering with the details, sometimes for the better, and sometimes not, so it’s difficult to elaborate.

One feels more freedom than in western countries nowadays – but read the local newspapers and you may not be so sure.  So best stay away from the papers.

The main crime affecting expats is bag snatching – be aware of two people on motorbikes if you are walking.  The pillion passenger can snatch a bag and they make off.  The main danger here is simply the horrendous driving.  I do feel since I have been here drivers are becoming a little more courteous, however.

One can fly directly abroad from Penang, although it is often necessary to go via KL, Bangkok or Singapore for longer haul flights. The airport is small and fairly close, so travel is quite convenient.

Malaysia is somewhere in between Europe, Japan, and Australia, so it’s relatively easy to visit or be visited – those locations are important to us.

Food is good, cheap, and there is a huge variety due to the mix of races in this country. Best of all is the tropical fruit.

English is very widely understood so that learning any other language is unnecessary. The local languages are Bahasa, Hokkien Chinese, and Tamil.

As for culture, there is plenty of local culture and frequent festivals; western culture is much thinner on the ground.

Locally bought health insurance is affordable, and the standard of health care is good.   A visit to a doctor costs about GBP6, so there is little need to use insurance for this.

Penang has a quite a big expat community, and there are various associations one can join if one wishes.

After almost four years here, this is my list of good and bad things here:

Low cost of living
No tax on International income, or income originating abroad and brought to Malaysia
Relatively free
Not persecuted for driving, as one is in the UK, US, Australia
Tropical fruit
MM2H visa quite good
Low crime
Between Europe, Japan & Australia
Low cost of flights
Honesty and friendliness of people
English very widely spoken
Common law legal system
Political stability
Malaysia has oil and plenty of water

Many things not available to buy – but it is improving slowly
Information is hard to get locally
Slow internet
Appalling driving
No infrastructure for cycling/walking
Alcohol and cars expensive
Jellyfish and often pollution in sea means you wouldn’t want to swim
Littering seems to be a hobby for many

And where else did I consider? Thailand. The bad points were, inter alia: lack of political stability, civil law legal system, retirement visa not so good, and hard to buy freehold property.  Indonesia & Philipines: not as safe, and less developed. Panama, Ecuador, Uruguay – geographically not so convenient for me.

International Living magazine in 2012 rated Malaysia fourth best place to retire – behind Ecuador, Panama and Mexico (source The Expat). I subscribed to International Living  for many years, and it’s a good magazine, but it is slanted towards Americans, which may have influenced the ratings.

As a paying customer of the country, I can of course, move on if conditions deteriorate.  But in many respects I have noticed Penang is improving.  It has become a World Heritage site, and many rundown buildings have been renovated and spruced up, the variety of restaurants has increased, some footpaths are appearing enabling one to walk, a cycling path around the island is promised, a new bridge to the mainland is being built,  hygiene and English levels are improving, even some awareness of the health dangers of MSG in food is occurring.

It is actually much nicer living here than visiting as a tourist, so coming for a quick look, although necessary, can be deceptive.  It is easy to stay here and rent a condo on a tourist visa, making a short trip every three months to a nearby country, so that when you return you will have another three months visa.  Many people do this for years.  This way you can make little commitment and decide if it is for you. And you can travel the country and find your favourite location. You will also know what you should ship here if you decide to get the MM2H visa, and what you won’t need.

So, give it some thought.  You can afford to retire much earlier than you may have thought if you choose Malaysia.

View from condo balcony

Tropical Expat