When Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa announced last month that four out of five teenagers in Malaysia – that’s 80% – were sedentary, not everyone was shocked.

Penang-based Ho-Liao Fitness founder Ho Yah Wen, 43, says he is not surprised. In fact, he says it’s not just teenagers who are sedentary. Most adults are also physically inactive.

Ho says the human body is made to move around so physical activities keep it healthy.  — Photos: HO YAH WENHo says the human body is made to move around so physical activities keep it healthy. — Photos: HO YAH WEN“I wasn’t surprised to hear that. “The numbers from the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) show that one in two, or 50%, of Malaysians aged 18 and above are either overweight or obese,” he says.

Malaysia is not singular in this predicament of sedentary teenagers. A 2019 World Health Organization (WHO) study found that more than 80% of school-going adolescents worldwide are not getting adequate regular exercise.

The study also found that most youngsters aged 11 to 17 years fail to meet current recommendations of at least an hour of physical activity per day.

More alarmingly, WHO has identified insufficient physical activity as the fourth leading risk factor for mortality, contributing to 6% of deaths globally.

The WHO also reported that physically inactive individuals have a 20% to 30% increased risk of all-cause mortality, compared to those who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week.

A body composition specialist, Ho says this is already a huge problem because being overweight increases almost every risk of metabolic diseases.

“But addressing it is very expensive and requires commitment and enormous political willpower. Everyone from parents and schools to political leaders need to play their role,” says the certified fitness instructor.

Parents, he says, should provide a conducive environment for teenagers, while schools must encourage more physical activities outside of the mandatory Physical Education (PE) classes.

“While it is not okay to fat-shame overweight teenagers, it is also not okay to tell them that it’s okay to be sedentary,” says Ho.

Ho personally knows how poor food and lifestyle choices will adversely affect one’s life. Seven years ago, the former engineer decided to change his life when his weight started to pile up, causing his health to deteriorate.

“I started learning about nutrition, body composition, exercise techniques and seeking mentors like cardiologists and professional bodybuilders,” he says, “and two years ago, I started my fitness company.”

Thankfully, teenagers don’t have to wait to be in their 30s to make a healthy shift. These three young adults changed themselves to embrace fit and healthy adulthood.

YouTube does it

While other teenagers used the Covid-19 pandemic as a reason to increase their screen time with gaming and social media, 18-year-old Iskandar Shah Azlizan made better use of the virtual world and changed his life.

The former Royal Military College (RMC) student from Kuala Lumpur who is now a student at Universiti Malaya (UM) was hooked on YouTube videos by Jordan Yeoh, a Malaysian internet personality known for his lifestyle and fitness content.

“It was the Movement Control Order (MCO) and I wasn’t happy with my physical appearance and stamina, and at the same time, I was looking for something to do after online classes and gaming. Then, I found Jordan,” said Iskandar.

With his new found fitness, Iskandar Shah is now into road cycling. With his new found fitness, Iskandar Shah is now into road cycling.

With no equipment, Iskandar regularly “trained” with Jordan during his leisure time. At the same time, he controlled his calories.

“I halved my calorie intake to 2,000 calories a day but that was not easy. Back then, it didn’t feel right if my mouth wasn’t munching on something,” he says.

It took Iskandar four months to shed over 35kg for him to reach his lightest, 64kg.

“I think I was over 100kg before Covid-19. I didn’t weigh myself because I knew I’d be disappointed with the numbers on the scale,” says Iskandar, who is 1.75m tall and now weighs 74kg, with a body fat percentage of approximately 16%.

Although he has gained 10kg, Iskandar is happy with his current weight because “it’s not all fat, and muscle, unlike fat, burns calories at rest,”

“Now, I don’t focus too much on my weight, but more on the transformation of my body. If I were to set a personal body goal, Yeoh would be a perfect example,” he says.

With his newfound stamina and fitness, Iskandar has ventured into road cycling. “My mother bought me a road bike and would take me cycling with her friends on popular cycling routes like Genting Perez in Hulu Langat, Selangor and Jalan Temiang, Negri Sembilan. She also signed me up for running events,” he adds.

Thanks to the military training he received in secondary school, Iskandar, who during his heavier days struggled to stand up from sitting down or from lying on the floor, now takes less than 30 minutes to run 5km.

“It has been an amazing and eye-opening journey and I was really grateful to have taken that first step and to have the consistency to see things through,” he says.

Flat-abs challenge

Lee exercised with YouTube videos to achieve better-defined muscles.  — RACHEL LEE JI WONLee exercised with YouTube videos to achieve better-defined muscles. — RACHEL LEE JI WONCollege student Rachel Lee Ji Won also made the most of her lockdown days.

“I came across some home workout videos and they got me all fired up to change my body shape and size,” says the 21-year-old student from Kuala Lumpur.

Lee followed her favorite YouTube workouts she subscribed to from her bedroom. “Even though I only lost a few kilos which didn’t affect the size of my body, I am happy to see that my muscles are more defined,” she says.

As a child, Rachel was quite athletic, with her leisure time spent practicing Japanese martial arts aikido and swimming classes for six years until she was 14.

However, she started gaining weight soon after she stopped those activities. “I got bloated easily and I felt terrible, especially after meals. And I didn’t like the way it made my body look,” says Rachel who now weighs 47kg.

Besides taking up YouTube workout challenges, Rachel now focuses on maintaining a healthy, balanced and appropriately-portioned diet.

Early intervention

Muhammad Iyadh Uqail Fakhrul Azman, 19, had his lightbulb moment much earlier.

“I was in Year Six when I got a call from Klinik Kesihatan for a consultation because I was obese. I think I may have weighed 60kg or more,” says the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Seri Iskandar student from Salak Tinggi, Selangor.

The doctor, he says, explained the effects obesity has on one’s health and the importance to be physically active to lead a healthy life.

When he was 12, Muhammad Iyadh was called up by the government health clinic for obesity intervention.When he was 12, Muhammad Iyadh was called up by the government health clinic for obesity intervention.

“That day, I went home motivated and I started with simple exercises like jogging at the nearby Value Public Park,” Muhammad Iyadh says.

Muhammad Iyadh says he balances his love for food and sweating out.  — Photos: MUHAMMAD IYADH UQAIL FAKHRUL AZMANMuhammad Iyadh says he balances his love for food and sweating out. — Photos: MUHAMMAD IYADH UQAIL FAKHRUL AZMANDuring his first year of losing weight, his parents jogged with him before they started to include hiking at Bukit Melati in Value, Negri Sembilan as their weekend family activity.

“Eventually, my parents enrolled me in running events,” he says. After two years, 14-year-old Muhammad Iyadh lost 10kg, and was in the normal weight range for boys his age.

“There were times when I felt like giving up but the doctor’s motivation pushed me to think positively and to continue this healthy lifestyle,” says the 1.71m-tall Muhammad Iyadh, who now weighs 70kg.

As a university student, Muhammad Iyadh keeps his days active with a 5km run daily and occasional hiking outings with friends.

“I love to eat, especially my mother’s cooking. So I don’t really focus on a specific diet. But I have rules on carbs and sugar – no second helpings and limited sweetened drinks in a day,” he says.

“I really appreciate my fitness and health now. I think health is wealth and nothing can ever come close to it,” he says.

Starts from home

Ho says if teenagers who are sedentary or overweight can change their lifestyle, they are doing their health a great favour.

Ho before his life-changing weight-loss journey.Ho before his life-changing weight-loss journey.“Parents should provide an environment for teenagers to be able to enjoy healthy meals and move more. They should also teach their children that poor food and lifestyle choices can have very devastating effects later in life,” he says.

Family activities, Ho suggests, should include physical activity. “Go on hiking trips together, take up swimming or cycling if that’s what the family likes. Sometimes, it’s just something simple like walking around the neighborhood after meals.”

“And when it is time to eat, make an effort to cook healthy meals for the whole family. It doesn’t have to be fancy; keep them simple but nutritious.”

Family culture is important in shaping our views about health and fitness, Ho adds.

“Most importantly, I think parents should set an example for their own children. Start practicing a healthy lifestyle yourself and be that change that you want to see in your children,” he says.

These Malaysian youth prove it’s possible to change and live a healthy life

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