Experiencing the wellness wake-up call
MANILA, Philippines – It’s tempting to think that our bodies are completely fine just because we’re not “sick.” We treat all-nighters at work as badges of honor; we glorify fatty #foodporn on Instagram; we treat healthy dining and exercise as “expenses” instead of investments.
That was my life for a number of years, so it was unnerving to be greeted by a weighing scale and a measuring tape once again at a health and wellness briefing for online media. According to representatives of AXA, the multinational health insurance company that organized the event, this was meant to help us calculate our “health numbers” and get a reality check about our bodies.
Although I had just come from a 10-day lemon juice cleanse and had been eating mostly raw fruits and vegetables since then, I knew that a lifetime of stress and poor lifestyle choices had started to take its toll on my 34-year-old body.
Some numbers told me that I was right.
Meet the numbers
First up were some basic figures: age, height (in meters), then weight (in kilograms). We computed for our Body Mass Index (BMI) by dividing weight over height-squared. (BMI = kg/m2) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “BMI provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people and is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems.”
The normal BMI range is from 18.5-24.9. My BMI fell within the “overweight” category. Not good.
While BMI is useful in determining fatness, a complementary and more accurate indicator is the Body Fat Percentage (BF%), which is measured by a device that sends unnoticeable electric currents throughout the body. According to Dandee Adapon of AXA, “Fat is a poor conductor of electricity, so the slower the current travels through your body, the more fat you have.”
The “acceptable” BF% is 15 to 20 for men and 24 to 30 for women. My number was way over, and fell within the “overfat” category. Definitely not good.
Next up: the Waist-to-Hip Ratio, computed by dividing the waist measurement (located around an inch or two over the bellybutton) over the hip measurement (in centimeters). According to Dr. Ted Herbosa, Undersecretary of the Department of Health and a guest speaker during the event, “It is normal for women to have larger waist-to-hip ratios than men because of their child-bearing capacity.”
But my number wasn’t within the normal range of 0.7. The verdict: I was “high-risk.”
I wasn’t spared by my Blood Pressure, either. My blood pressure was usually on the low side, so I was surprised when I registered a 127/76 and it was deemed “pre-hypertensive.”
All in all, my numbers showed that I was at moderate-to-high risk of getting non-communicable or lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, or even cancer. Add to that the fact that those illnesses are present in both sides of my family. The data was there, staring me right in the face; there was no hiding from the truth.
How Filipinos add up
Apparently, I’m not alone—and the numbers are disturbing. According to Dr. Renzo Guinto, an independent consultant who crunched a wide range of data on the Filipino’s state of health, “Filipinos are a sedentary lot… [Almost] 93 percent of Filipinos have low physical activity; only 7.3 percent have purposeful, planned, leisure-related physical activities.”
“Sitting is the new smoking.” Usec. Herbosa cautioned the online journalists present at the event. “You’re decreasing your life span just by sitting and blogging!”
We greeted the findings with nervous laughter, but there was, indeed, something to be worried about. If our environment, our professions, and our everyday routines did not make it easy for us to live healthily, what will compel us to take better care of ourselves?
“It can happen to you”
Actress and TV host Camille Prats shared her story of how an unexpected illness made her a widow at 24. Just a few months after she and her husband, Anthony Linsangan, were married, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer.
According to Usec. Herbosa, this kind of cancer, also commonly known as throat cancer, is common among Asians and can be “inoperable” at later stages.
Camille admitted that they were caught off-guard by Anthony’s diagnosis, because although he had a history of severe allergic rhinitis, “he didn’t seem sick at the time.”
“I couldn’t believe he actually had cancer because he was only 30… It was the last thing I could think of,” Camille admitted.
Camille was confident that Anthony’s youth would enable him to handle the daily radiation sessions and weekly rounds of chemotherapy. However, the cancer soon spread, and a year after he was diagnosed, Anthony passed away, leaving behind Camille and their then 4-year-old son, Nathan.
“The hardest part for me was waking up the next day and realizing he was gone. Hindi ko matanggap (I couldn’t accept) that he was so young, so full of life… I couldn’t understand why it had to be him.”
The sad fact is: Anthony and Camille’s story can happen to anyone.
Dealing with reality
Despite the harsh reality checks, there is hope for Filipinos. According to Dr. Guinto, our average life expectancy has increased by 10 years since the 1970s. However, that means more Filipinos will live longer during their post-retirement years, after they have the capacity to earn a regular income.
To deal with the realities of age, illness, and financial stress, the speakers offered these tips:
- Get to know your health numbers. The more you know about your body and your medical history, the more you’ll know what steps to take next.
- Get regular check-ups. “Huwag tayo mag-galing-galingan. Huwag tayo mag-doktor-doktoran. Hindi natin ‘yun expertise,” said Camille. (Don’t act as if you know it all, and don’t play doctor. That’s not our expertise)
- Make better lifestyle choices, including more exercise. Non-communicable diseases are caused by a series of wrong choices that we make over a lifetime. The sooner we’re able to switch to better choices, the more chances we’ll have of saving ourselves from such illnesses.
- Plan for the unexpected. As the saying goes, the only inevitable thing in life is death and taxes. Still, millions of Filipinos are caught unprepared and without a sound financial plan. Know your goals, crunch your numbers, and stick to your plan.
“We’re living longer lives, so we need to rethink the way we will live our future lives,” Dr. Guinto emphasized.
Terol-Zialcita (@ninaterol) describes herself as a "communicator, connector, idea curator, and changemaker." As the founder and "Chief Inspiration Officer" of Inspired.PH, she hopes to build a community of Filipinos who will live with creativity, passion, and authenticity.Niña