Wednesday August 22, 2012
Get moving for your own health
By S. INDRAMALAR
Malaysians are an inactive bunch. It’s up to families to get things going.
EVERY weekend, Brian Wong and his wife Wendy take their sons, James Dylan, five and Tristen, two, out of the house (and sometimes out of the city) so they can all run, cycle and play in open fields and parks.
Keeping active and fit is a huge priority with the Wongs, who own their own wellness centre in Kuala Lumpur.
“We’re always out on weekends. Every Friday, we make plans for the weekend. We either go to the butterfly park, the bird park, the zoo, Lake Gardens and sometimes we head out to a friend’s farm in Janda Baik in Bentong, Pahang where the kids get to climb trees, search for worms or tend to the chickens on the farm. It’s a lot of fun and being out and about actually makes us feel more alive,” says Wong, 39.
Unfortunately the Wongs don’t fit the profile of a typical Malaysian family.
According to a recent survey published in the medical journal Lancet, Malaysia is the 10th most inactive country among some 122 countries surveyed. It was part of a study headed by Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil professor Pedro C. Hallal, who used data primarily from the World Health Organisation to assess levels of inactivity amongst adults.
Malta emerged as the laziest (or most inactive) nation with 71.9% of adults not adhering to the recommended amount of activity, followed closely by Serbia (68.3%) and the United Kingdom (63.3%).
Malaysia’s level of inactivity rests at an alarming 61.4%: a whopping 57.3% of men and 65.6% of women over the age of 15 fail to meet recommended level of activity which is equivalent to walking briskly for at least 30 minutes five times a week or 20 minutes of more vigorous exercise, three times a week.
The results aren’t surprising, says Dr Tee E Siong, president of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia.
“I am not surprised (that we’re ranked so high). The prevalence of obesity in Malaysia has been on the rise over the last three decades and the critical factor where obesity is concerned is energy balance – a balance between the energy we consume (through food) and the energy that we use (through physical activity).
“In Malaysia, we tend to overeat, particularly high energy food. And we don’t do enough physical activity.”
Both Wong and Wendy admit that they weren’t always so mindful about living an active and healthy life.
“When we first met more than 10 years ago, we weren’t so healthy. I used to exercise a fair bit but I also smoked and ate unhealthily. I worked in corporate finance at the time and I was really stressed during the week. When the weekends came, I was usually sick or just so tired.
“After a while, I got tired of being sick all the time and decided to do something about my life. I went to a health retreat in Fiji where I went through a detox programme and attended lectures about health, nutrition and exercise. In that one week, I really learnt a lot.
“A seed was planted. I came back and started practising what I learned and soon, Wendy started doing it too. It became habitual and we changed our lives. I left corporate finance and we started our wellness centre,” says Wong who set up Pure Health with his wife in 2001.
There has been no turning back for the couple.
“We’ve never felt better. We’ve become better people ... it’s a continuum, when you decide to give up certain things, you become more disciplined. When you get rid of the toxins in your body, you become more focused.
“We don’t have energy dips which is why we can go out and do things all the time and don’t fall sick. I used to have hypothyroidism … my hair could not grow and I was cold all the time even in this weather. But when I changed my lifestyle, I got better and haven’t taken any medication in eight years,” shares Wendy.
Lead by example
Inactivity, says Dr Tee, is the backwash of modern-day living: long hours on the job, the demands of domestic life, the ease of transport that’s available as well as the prevalence of sedentary leisure pursuits such as the iPad and the television.
“Two or three decades ago, Malaysians were more active. We walked more, cycled more and were outdoors more. Now, we don’t move much … and I am not even talking about exercise.
“We are just not physically active. We are bogged down by schedules and work late into the evenings.
“On weekends, most of us are also tied up with family activities rather than outdoor activities. We say it is too hot to exercise outside, it is unsafe to exercise outside. It is too hot to walk and so we drive everywhere and park very close to the lift. But there are many ways to overcome all this.
“It is a matter of habit, discipline and determination,” he says.
Parents play an important role in inculcating healthy habits in children, reckons Thong Weng Hon, 40.
Lawyers Thong and his wife Janice, 41, make it a point to encourage their sons, Julian, 11 and Justin, nine, to be active in sports. The family of four often exercise together.
“I find that children tend to follow what we (parents) do rather than what we say. So we try to set an example by being physically active and they have naturally followed,” he says.
Adds Janice, “Parents play a very important role in providing opportunities for children to participate in physical activity, especially when the children are still young and dependent on them to get around. If a parent chooses to stay home and watch TV, their children will definitely sit and watch TV with them as young children love being with their parents and following what they do.
“Also, I think sometimes parents are so eager for their children to excel academically they neglect physical activity. Children are bogged down with tuition, music lessons and art classes … but not physical activity. “
Thong, who has been athletic since his youth, believes that he inherited his outlook on physical activity from his late grandfather.
“As a child, my grandfather impressed upon me the importance of the famous Latin saying, Mens sana in corpore sano, which means ‘a sound mind in a sound body’. It is vital that we take care of our body and health.
“If we have good health we have a better quality of life. A lot of diseases today can be attributed to an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle, so to avoid this, we try to ingrain in our children the importance of physical activity.
“By exercising regularly, it should become a habit and it will be easier for them to maintain it when they are older. Besides, we love doing physical activities together as a family … it is an excellent opportunity to bond with our kids,” he says.
Janice admits that unlike her husband, she wasn’t always so active.
“I started exercising as a way of losing weight but later, I found that I enjoyed working out, especially in group classes. My children however really enjoy their martial arts classes and they look forward to it every week. Kids are by nature active but the TV, computers and all these technological devices are quickly turning them into sedentary teens,” she says.
The influence that parents have on children is, says Wong, quite remarkable.
“My eldest boy JD started doing ‘push-ups’ when he was two. He’d see me on my mat and he’d follow what I did. It was just a natural thing to do. Now he can do about 100 baby push ups and squats too.
“They are both really active and they understand why they have to be active and eat healthy food,” shares Wong.