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.





Eating is pretty good in Penang.  Although there has been quite noticeable inflation over the past years, eating out is still affordable, and the supermarket and wet market bills not too high.  So, it is easy to put on weight.

Two or three times a year I do a water fast for two weeks or so, in order to detox and lose weight. Apparently this is good for longevity, too. I have been doing this for about three years, and simply looked online for hints before starting. Most sites say you should consult your doctor.  I am healthy, have no known conditions, nor a doctor – so I just started.

The first fast was really hard, but it became easier the more I did it.  The general idea is to drink just water, but sometimes I have coffee – which is helpful in suppressing my appetite, or some vegetable or fruit juice – made using a juicer, not bought from a supermarket. So a cup of coffee or a juice every couple of days.

I don’t just lie in bed; I generally just try to carry on with life as normal. I don’t work, so I can do this, but it would be too difficult if I did.  Sometimes my energy level becomes too low to function, and a need a couple of teaspoons of honey, or a boiled lolly.  It’s a good idea to have something with me when I go out just in case. Weight loss is about 1KG every two days; stomach size reduction about 1cm every two days.

Part of my routine is exercise, and so I continue with this, too. The days I exercise, paradoxically, I seem to have more energy than other days.

It is easy to tell when one’s body is detoxifying by, er, sorry to be indelicate, one’s odour. For me this stops after about a week or 10 days.

Every day I keep a log so I can see how weight loss and stomach size decrease is progressing, and look back on previous fasts to compare.  It can be discouraging when my stomach size just stays the same for four days without dropping, but a check on previous fasts show it not to be uncommon.

I make the log in a spreadsheet with the following headings:

day no.    date   stomach    Kgs            notes

There is a kind of juice fast called juicefeasting, where one just drinks juice, but I found I didn’t lose any weight on its regime.

However, on my most recent fast I did have a couple of vegetable juices on some days, and cheat a little by eating three (cashew) nuts  occasionally, when I was feeling hungry.  This fast was easy, and I always had energy, and my weight loss was 6KG – not too bad; but stomach size only decreased by 3.5cm.

Whether a diet works or not seems to depend on individual differences, and also the time in a person’s life.  I suspect fasting is more reliable than most methods, but then harder, too.  For me it works, and regular detoxing has got to be a good thing, too.