Come Feb 5, 2019, the Chinese calendar will be starting a new year, and based on the 12-animal Chinese zodiac, it will be the Year of the Earth Pig.

Those born in the year of the pig are said to be good-tempered, kind-hearted and loyal, although a tad gullible. However, the animal itself has a less pleasant reputation.

Just take a look at the various English idioms that are associated with pigs – most, if not all, have negative connotations.

Let’s explore how some of these idioms can relate to our health.

Eat like a pig

This idiom means to eat excessively with bad table manners, i.e. in a greedy and uncouth way.

Like humans, pigs are omnivores, consuming both plants and meat as part of their daily diet.

Wild pigs are known to eat pretty much anything in their path, which is perhaps where this idiom originates from.

Domestic pigs, of course, have a more controlled diet consisting mostly of corn and soybean meal.

According to The Pig Site, a pig can eat about 4% of its weight daily.

Now, telling someone they are “eating like a pig” means that we think they are eating way too much, and often in a greedy manner.

With both the wonderful choices of food we have in Malaysia, and the hospitality that requires food and drink to be served to guests, it’s not surprising that Malaysians might eat a tad too much.

This becomes a problem when your input (food consumed) exceeds your output (physical activity).

We eat food to provide energy for our body’s functions. The ideal situation would be to eat just enough to provide the exact amount of energy needed for our daily activities.

However, if we consume more food, and thus, produce more energy than we use up, then the excess energy is converted into fat cells.

If this pattern continues, the person will soon become overweight, and then obese – both of which are risk factors for various non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Doing physical activity, like exercising, housework and walking more, to match the amount of food we eat is one way to manage this situation.

There are also various methods to help us control our food intake. These include:

Using a smaller plate or bowl when eating

The sight of a full plate or bowl, even if it is small, can fool the mind into thinking you have had enough food, and cause you to eat less than if you had used a larger plate or bowl.

Chewing each mouthful several times before swallowing

This gives your brain’s satiety centre enough time to signal that you are already full.

Gulping down your food means the signal will only come after you’ve eaten way too much.

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A screenshot of the US Department of Agricultures webpage on the MyPlate concept is seen in this filepic. Vegetables and fruits should take up half your plate.

Using MyPlate or the Malaysian Food Pyramid

MyPlate is a visual guide that helps you determine how much of each type of food you should have on your plate.

Generally, your plate should consist of one quarter grains, one quarter protein, one quarter vegetables and one quarter fruits.

The Malaysian Food Pyramid uses a similar concept, only it comes in the shape of a pyramid, indicating how much of each type of food your diet should consist of.

The base of the Pyramid consists of carbohydrate-based foods, followed by fruits and vegetables, proteins, and fat, sugar and salt at the top.

Lazy pig

This term was probably inspired by the fact that domestic pigs tend to prefer lying down, mostly getting up just to eat.

Wild pigs, of course, have to be more industrious as they need to find their own food.

In humans, being a “lazy pig” means you spend most of the time sprawled on the sofa or bed, doing passive activities like eating or sleeping.

We all know that being sedentary for large amounts of time is bad for your health.

According to the Australian Department of Health, there is a difference between being sedentary and being physically inactive.

“Being ‘physically inactive’ means not doing enough physical activity (in other words, not meeting the physical activity guidelines).

“However, being ‘sedentary’ means sitting or lying down for long periods.

“So, a person can do enough physical activity to meet the guidelines and still be considered sedentary if they spend a large amount of their day sitting or lying down at work, at home, for study, for travel or during their leisure time.”

So, even if you are physically active at other times – i.e. being engaged in activity that gets your body moving, makes you breathe quicker and your heart beat faster – being sedentary at other times still affects your health negatively.

Of course, being both physically inactive and sedentary is a double whammy.

As mentioned above, if your physical activity is less than what you eat, you will put on weight, leading to overweight and obesity.

These two are already risk factors for various NCDs, and being physically inactive itself is a risk factor for conditions like type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancers, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, as well as early death.

One reason for this is because the lack of physical activity will cause your body’s metabolism to slow down, and thus impair its ability to regulate blood pressure, control blood sugar levels and break down fats.

A 2011 systematic review of the available research in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also found that sedentary behaviour may be a risk factor for the above problems, despite the person getting enough physical activity.

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A father and son wash their car in this filepic. A chore like this is good exercise, which can be fitted into your daily routine.

Here are some tips on how to avoid being sedentary, as well as incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine:

• Create opportunities for walking in your daily routine

For example, park as far away as possible from the entrance, take the stairs when you’re going up or down four floors or less, and walk to your colleague’s desk instead of calling or emailing.

• Do more housework

Housework such as mopping, sweeping/vacuuming, gardening and washing your car, are good physical activities.

• Stand when you can

This applies particularly when you’re using your computer/smartphone/tablet, or watching TV.

Rather than sitting, stand up and burn some extra calories while viewing your screen, whether at home or at work.

Break up your inactive periods

Try to break up your sedentary periods by using a timer to remind you to get up and move.

Your timer, which can be found on your smartphone, should be set at a maximum of an hour – less is better.

When it goes off, get up and walk around a bit before continuing your work.

If you’re watching TV, you can do this during the commercial breaks.

However, if you are binge-watching a TV series, then get up after one episode ends (or better yet, watch it standing up!).

Living in a pigsty

Pigs are usually thought to live in unsanitary conditions – probably because they tend to live in mud.

So, this idiom is meant to describe a person living in a very dirty and/or untidy environment.

Aside from being unpleasant, living in a dirty environment will make one prone to falling ill, especially from infectious diseases.

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This hoarder’s house is filled with rubbish in this filepic, illustrating the idiom ‘living in a pigsty’.

These diseases are usually spread from rodents and insects that are attracted to living in such conditions.

A common one, particularly in urban areas, is dengue.

This disease is spread by the bite of the female Aedes mosquito, which plays host to the dengue virus.

The Aedes mosquito breeds in still water that is a 50-sen coin or more in size, which can easily collect in household items like flower pots or tools that are left in areas exposed to water, especially rain.

As dengue fever has no cure, it is fortunate that most people recover from it on their own.

However, there are some patients who will develop dengue haemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome, which can be life-threatening.

Other such infectious diseases include leptospirosis (spread from contact with infected animal urine, including rats), salmonellosis (spread through contact with contaminated animal or human faeces), typhoid fever (spread the same way as salmonellosis) and malaria (spread through the bite of the female Anopheles mosqui-to, which breeds in areas similar to the Aedes mosquito).

So, ensuring that your living area is clean and tidy, including the area outside your house, will go far towards ensuring that you are not infected with these preventable diseases.

Sweating like a pig

Telling someone that they are “sweating like a pig” means they are really sweating a lot.

Now, most people (including me before this!) probably think that the pig referred to in this idiom is an actual live pig of the mammalian variety.

But pigs actually have only a few sweat glands.

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When its hot, your sweat helps to cool down your body. — AFP

The main reason for the production of sweat – in both humans and animals – is to help regulate body temperature, specifically to keep cool.

This is why we sweat when we are hot from the surrounding temperature (i.e. a hot day), physical activity, emotional stress (like when you see your crush), eating hot or spicy food, and a fever.

Because pigs are unable to sweat a lot due to their limited sweat glands, they use other ways to keep cool.

This brings us back to the idiom “living in a pigsty”; the reason why pigs like to live in mud as mentioned above, is because wallowing in the cool mud helps to keep their body temperature down.

Aside from cooling down our body when we are hot, sweat is also one of the ways our body gets rid of various unwanted substances and toxins.

And according to Australian state Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services, sweat also helps with our hand grip, by slightly moistening our palms.

Oh, and the pig referred to in this idiom? It’s actually pig iron, which “sweats” a lot when it is being smelted.

Pig iron is shaped in moulds that have branches so that it looks like piglets suckling on a sow.