As much as we love Hong Kong, we have to admit that our city is a rather toxic place to live in, given the pollution and hectic lives many are leading. To cope with the immense pressure, a lot of people grab food on the go, eat out too much, and stay up late into the night. It’s often not until a health condition rears its ugly head that one starts thinking about his or her health.
You know what they say about skincare: prevention is the best cure, and this is no less true for health problems. Oftentimes, when individuals attempt to counteract their health issues with exercises and a short-term diet, ill-advised fitness and food routines put them in a further stressed state, resulting in sub-optimal results. Now more than ever, it is essential to improve your whole health by looking at the total picture of diet and important lifestyle factors like stress, rest, and sleep—healing the cause of your discomfort rather than just addressing the symptoms.
Finding good solutions to manage your own health is tricky territory. Luckily, we have the guidance of Ally van de Pol, a certified holistic nutritionist and personal trainer, and her expert tips on how to achieve lifelong health through eating well, exercising, and managing one’s lifestyle are key. Spoiler alert: it really isn’t that hard, but it does require habit-building changes and motivation.
Photo courtesy of Eat Plant-Based
Eat more whole plant foods (yes, it’s as simple as that)
No, meat lovers, before you rise up in protest, you don’t have to adopt a wholly vegan or vegetarian diet to eat healthier. Simply adjusting your daily food consumption to include more fruits and vegetables will do the trick. Ally van de Pol encourages her clients to fill half to two-thirds of their plates at each meal with fruit or non-starchy veggies, and minimise meat, dairy, eggs, processed food, fats and oils. We love cheese as much as you do, but perhaps a handful of mixed nuts will keep the cravings at bay. Eating well doesn’t mean eating less—sometimes, her clients actually eat more—it just means eating better and more nutritious foods.
This plan is easier to achieve than you think, especially in Hong Kong, as most neighbourhoods have a wet market or stalls in the area, where whole plant foods can be readily accessed. Not to mention that fruits need no preparation (except for a thorough washing) and most vegetables can be eaten raw or after a simple wok-fry or steam.
Maintaining a diet rich in whole plant foods “reduces the inflammation in the body, feeds the good microbes in the gut, and heightens immunity,” since whole plant foods are anti-inflammatory, according to van de Pol. To treat chronic illnesses, taking prescribed Western medicine merely places a band-aid on the symptoms, rather than getting to the root of the cause. Optimal diet and lifestyle, in fact, can prevent health conditions from arising in the first place and help to heal them after the fact.
Photo courtesy of Bumble Bee Foods
Not everyone’s fitness routine works for you (and that’s ok)
For fitness newbies, it’s important to start things off slowly to let your body recover in between training sessions, rather than go at your new routine with gusto all day, every day. More is not always better. If you’re not sure what to do for your exercise routine, van de Pol suggests engaging in an activity that you actually enjoy doing, so you can readily get into it straight from home or work. Walking regularly, for instance, is one of the best and most achievable options, especially in the evenings or early mornings, when the beating daytime heat of Hong Kong has cooled down.
For those who want to kick the aerobic exercises up a notch, like walking up hills or running, make sure that your movement and pattern is good. If you’re not sure how, van de Pol recommends working with a fitness professional. Many clients came to her with aches and pains resulting from erroneous exercising movement or postures. Ultimately, be consistent with your routine, because staying fit is a lifestyle that you have to adapt to. “Sustainable results for most people are not achieved in six weeks,” says van de Pol. Over time, gradually increase either the intensity or number of your sessions. If you get discouraged at the thought of starting your routine, remember that it only takes 30 days for a new habit to take hold.
Photo courtesy of Harvard Health
Small spurts of exercise are better than none
Holistic health is not just about eating well or exercising. It also includes a wholesome lifestyle that includes getting plentiful and quality sleep, managing stress and mental health. As walking and talking human stress balls, we all know that it’s easier said than done. Undeniably, Hong Kong’s rapid and hectic metropolitan life presents a great challenge in realising these goals. Ally van de Pol observes that “most companies in Hong Kong tend to bleed employees dry and have them work longer hours than it’s permitted. Employees have to set boundaries.”
Taking mini-breaks during a workday can be as straightforward as setting a regular timer to remind you to get up from your desk and take a walk around. You can also use it as a cue to remain seated at your desk and focus on your breathing before beginning your next task. Defusing from work before going back home, she suggests, can help as well, so you’re not taking the everyday stress with you at the end of the day. Some ways to do this include exercising, reading on your commute, or sitting in the park or by the harbour.
Photo courtesy of Jooinn
Yep, we get it. How are we supposed to devise an integrated plan to achieve all of these health goals? We’re already spending most of our waking hours occupied with work and just life in general. The good news is, that’s where holistic health and nutrition coaching steps in. Located in Sai Kung, Dragon Fitness & Coaching is a studio offering tailor-made holistic health and nutrition solutions.
“What’s holistic health coaching?” you ask. Holistic health coaches focus on various areas of your life, primarily diet and eating habits. They also look at the whole picture of one’s lifestyle—such as sleep, anxiety, stress, and time management—to help you become healthier.
For instance, if you want to lose weight, but have a crazy tight schedule and never seem to have time to prepare a home-cooked meal or work out, the health coaches at Dragon Fitness & Coaching can advise a long-term, personalised nutritious eating plan. Rather than simply putting you on a restrictive diet, they suggest adjustments to your lifestyle that accommodates your new health goals. In the case of clients grappling with pressing health conditions, Dragon Fitness coaches would refer them to another credentialed professional for extra support.
Photo courtesy of Dragon Fitness & Coaching
How do I get started?
The Health Nutrition Fitness 12-week Kickstarter Programme at Dragon Fitness & Coaching is a good way to get on track, regardless of whether you’re looking to cure or avoid health conditions. Over twelve weeks, you’ll first complete a health questionnaire and keep a food diary. Then comes your first consultation session with head coach Ally van de Pol, where your initial health goals are discussed. Based on the information given in the questionnaire and the consultation, a lifestyle plan will be developed.
Then comes the exciting part (or the hard part, depending on how you look at it). You’ll embark on a personalised training programme, which teaches you key movements like squatting, hinging, pushing, and pulling, laying down the foundational skills of strength and control necessary for further training. Throughout the programme, ongoing nutrition coaching is provided, which can be conducted through emails and Whatsapps. Three formal coaching sessions are provided in the plan.
If you don’t live close to Sai Kung, where Dragon Fitness & Coaching is located, a one-off nutrition and health consultation conducted either face-to-face or via Skype and Facetime can also do wonders. Ally van de Pol will follow up, helping you to prepare a meal plan, monitoring your food diary, and assisting with other lifestyle goals to ensure you’re on track. With Dragon Fitness & Coaching committed to improving your health, you’ve got the support you need to make health changes happen.
Dragon Fitness, Dragon’s Lodge, 1A Wong Chuk Yeung, Sai Kung | (+852) 9555 0358
Click here to learn more about their services