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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Making It Work At Work

There is no doubt that physical activity is one of the keys to maintaining and improving one’s health. From the days when Jane Fonda was sometimes ridiculed for her work in promoting aerobics, to our present time, when we have an obesity epidemic brought about by unhealthy food choices, subliminal and outright advertising of “supposed” health products that do more harm than good, stress levels at home and at work, and lack of actual physical movement due to improvements in automation in every facet of our lives, it has become a problem for exercise professionals to get people to actually move.

When I say move, I mean anything that raises your heart rate and taxes your body’s muscular endurance or strength, aerobic capacity and flexibility: that could mean something as “simple” as walking, to events like all-out triathlons that have been increasing in visibility as of late. Despite what we see in media, the data does not lie: our country has one of the highest rates of obesity in Southeast Asia, and you only need to see what our kids choose to eat to know that there is a problem as far as health is concerned.

Should this be a burden for business owners and managers? Absolutely!  Any business worth their weight in (insert business product or service here) knows that their company cannot possibly survive, much less thrive, unless they have a fully functioning, competent workforce present, and one of the imminent dangers this workforce faces is having a poor state of health, which leads to substandard levels of personal productivity, feelings of depression, lethargy, absenteeism – all of which can affect a business and its’ bottom line.

What can businesses do to shore up the health of their human resources? Should businesses do something about it, at all? To answer these, I will share ideas from “Workplace Health Promotion” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Council on Exercise, and my own personal experience as a fitness professional.

Mixing business with fitness.
(Courtesy of

 It Makes Good Business Sense

Businesses spend money when they hire, train, compensate and give other by benefits to an employee they hire. Multiply that by how many employees you have and you can see that this is not an amount to be trifled with: you do this because you are in expectation that what they deliver will help the business become profitable.

Think of their physical well-being as an insurance that what you have materially invested so far in their development will not be wasted due to sick days or lacklustre performances. It is vital for business owners and managers to realize that the state of their employees’ health has a direct impact on how productive they are, and the healthier they are, the less stress on other expenses that can be controlled. (Think of the medical claims your employees use annually under your company health packages, and how much smaller your premiums would be if there are less claims made because majority of them are reporting less illnesses.)

It Has To Come From The Top

Like many ideas that need traction, prioritizing your employees’ health will be boosted immensely if this was mandated and supported by the company’s top brass. To quote the American Council on Exercise (ACE) article “Fostering a Workplace Culture of Physical Activity,” they note that “when leaders regularly communicate the importance of employee health and well-being – and walk the talk – it becomes part of the corporate identity.”

You can do this by not only stating in an official capacity that physical activity is encouraged, but by actually providing opportunities to do so with your existing facilities. You can encourage stair walking and make stairwells “more appealing with paint, artwork and motivational signage.” You can designate your company canteen to make a “healthy choice” option  and challenge them to make it appealing so that even those who think healthy food is blah would have their interest piqued. You can relegate the smoking area to the lengthiest route and dingiest area to discourage the habit.

All you need are a determination to make this policy work and creative thinking.

Make Room For Physical Activity

In the old days, the only company perk that has “physical benefit” written all over it was the company’s basketball court, which, because of basketball rules and company politics, could only be taken advantage of by a select population of work: usually middle to upper management, men and only a handful out of the entire workforce population.

I’m glad to say that times have changed, and more and more companies are devoting physical spaces to exercise equipment and possibilities. I have taught exercise classes in company gyms, meeting rooms and even a chapel (which was used sparingly), and advised management teams on what and how they can utilize their space to accommodate more employees to exercise and move their bodies. Gyms should remember to provide for equipment for (1) muscular endurance (2) muscular strength (3) aerobic endurance and (4) flexibility. Consult a fitness professional so that you can properly take steps to making your workplace a healthier, stress controlled environment.

It Makes It Harder To Say No

A common “excuse” people use is the time/distance factor: they usually whine that they have “no time” to exercise, or that gyms, parks and other facilities are just so out of the way and inconvenient. Having exercise equipment and spaces right where they work eliminates the distance factor altogether, and as for the time element? Did you know that the American College of Sports Medicine has revised its’ recommendation for physical activity? You can do 15 minutes of exercise in the morning, and another 15 in the afternoon or after work, to complete their recommended time of 30 minutes of daily exercise. Surely, everyone can spare 15 minutes to move instead of taking a cigarette break or catching up on celebrity gossip, and it would clearly be time well spent.

On the other end are the gym “fanatics” who are so obsessed with exercise that they have started cutting their office hours just to catch a class or get in a few more reps (repetitions) on their chest exercises. I was once conducting a mind body class when this client (a doctor) got a phone call (which she answered while class was in progress, a big no-no) and was telling her secretary to tell her patients she would be late and that she was stuck in traffic, but in truth, she just wanted to finish the class. Having a facility on-site makes it unnecessary to resort to fibs just to have more exercise time.

It Shows Concern and Improves Company Loyalty

Employees will know that the company wants to take care of them and makes the effort to prove it by “walking the talk”. It is a win-win situation that boosts morale, reduces workplace sickness, improves employee confidence and well-being, and has a positive effect on the company earnings.

Like that popular sorts company ad says, Just Do It. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.


*This post first appeared in the fitness section of Asian Dragon magazine, July-August 2013 issue.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Are We Racists?

Last night certainly made a compelling case for it.

I'm talking about the aftermath of our loss to Iran in the FIBA games. It was hard not to be "caught up" as far as game updates were concerned, even for someone who cannot be considered a basketball aficionado by any stretch. All night long, my News Feed was filled with blow-by-blow accounts of the scores, who shot what, how many people were attending, how thrilling it was to be in the arena.

It was unavoidable because that's all anyone was talking about on my Facebook Wall (and their respective pages).

Not being as interested, I was at home watching movies and chanced upon the Iran-Philippines game during a commercial break. It was half-time, and they were displaying the game statistics. As a dispassionate observer, I could tell that we were outclassed, in both offense (two point shots showed Iran scoring more than twice our %) and defense (number of blocks). Coupled with what I have been reading (how this was a David-Goliath matchup, how Iran is seen as the team to beat, how uphill of a battle it was for the Philippines) it didn't take a second for me to see the writing on the wall.

So, when the final scores came in, I wasn't shocked at all. I'm sure our team didn't let this go without a fight, given the expectations after a still talked about game against Korea where we emerged victorious. But numbers don't lie, and I can be pragmatic to a fault.

Then the online onslaught began. I suddenly saw posts crying foul.

One by one, I saw status updates that focused on how the Iran basketball team "smelled": that we would have won had our players worn gas masks. There were memes posted about how it was a battle of Puso (heart) vs. Putok (body odor), and how it was natural for the latter to win.

Another faction complained about the height of the Iranian players, and how "unfair" this was for our boys.

The worst of the lot was when people started singling out individual players, calling them "yucky looking" and at least three people mentioning a particular player, saying that "you look like a pedophile!"

Pride or racism?
(Courtesy of

This might be a good time to talk about Pinoy Pride.

It's a nebulous concept at best, because I subscribe to the late George Carlin's philosophy: why be proud for something you were born into? Just as you happened to be a certain height, you also happened to be born in the Philippines. It is not an "achievement" to be paraded around.

When people win in, say, international singing contests, I attribute it to that person's personal singing talent and the hard work s/he put into it. I never understood the idea that it's because "galing yan sa Pinas kasi!" - we barely have enough facilities for basic education, much less support for something viewed as "extras" like the arts. It has always felt like nakikisakay tayo, us piggybacking on the coattails of someone's personal achievement.

And when things don't go our way, we are quick to view it as luto, we were singled out because of our color/nationality, and how discriminated we are on the world stage. I know this makes many people uncomfortable, but harping about achievements being dependent on one's nationality lends itself to racism quite seamlessly. It can't be helped: if we think that our pride is based on nationality, then any "infraction" is seen as an insult and an attack on this form of pride.

Which then lends itself also to direct this "infraction" as a racist attack towards others who are seen as the "perpetrators" - and in last night's case, to insult and disparage the Iranian basketball team that has somehow "wounded" our national pride.

We feel justified in calling them foul-smelling, and that we should wear protective gear should we come into physical proximity with them.

We think we raise ourselves up by putting down others for the supposed "characteristics" of another country, as in "everyone knows they all smell bad!"

We think nothing of calling someone as resembling a pedophile, as if it was a function of nationality, disregarding the fact that every country has its own share of offenders, sexual or otherwise.

We disrespect the hard work that others have put into their profession - and they just happened to be Iranian, or Chinese, or some other nationality - and instead, label their victories as "cheating" because of their height, or some other physical characteristic that everyone knows would be a boon before stepping into the game.

We disrespect ourselves, when we imply - actually, we went past implying and stated it outright - that our team didn't win because of a lack of gas masks, negating and belittling how hard they have worked to get to where they are.

We feel entitled because of where we were born, and not because of determination, hard work and perseverance.

Until we celebrate achievement for being the product of hard work, I fear this country will remain stunted, substituting racism for pride.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Obsessing Over The Superficial, Yet Again

The last few days saw an outpour of online support for the new Pope and his statement as far as gay people are concerned: his "Who am I to judge them?" has certainly made the rounds across social boards, and was largely seen as a (welcome) departure from his predecessor's feelings about the subject matter.

Now comes archbishop Oscar Cruz, who has taken it upon himself to "refine" - so to speak - on what the head of the world's Catholics had to say concerning gay people. In a recent Huffington Post article, Cruz agrees that gay people should not be disrespected, but only if they wouldn't "dress up as females, wear high heels, and other such acts."

It certainly highlights what I wrote for Rappler earlier this year: a predilection for this country to focus on what's outside, not the inside, in "determining" if someone is (supposedly) gay.

There are three things I find problematic with how Cruz sees gay people.

(Courtesy of

(1) The first - and rather obvious - landmine is that how one chooses to comport oneself is never reliable as an indication of one's sexual orientation.

I would have thought that in 2013, we are all astute enough to know that just because a guy doesn't play basketball does it make him gay, so should we have known that not all gay men like dressing up in women's clothes. If I may make an unscientific observation, given this country's purported (Catholic) religiosity and supposed moral uprightness, the pressure to act according to socially accepted norms is that much greater, and I theorize that there are more gay men who wear what Cruz would call "appropriate" clothing than what is commonly described as "parlorista" wear.

Cruz, however, cannot be faulted for what seems to be the general, prevalent notion: if you're gay, you must be a beauty pageant aficionado, wear makeup/are extremely knowledgeable about the subject, and want nothing more than a sex change to be a "real" woman. I can counter all these misconceptions in one fell swoop, using myself: I loathe beauty contests and see them as hideously disrespectful of women, I know absolutely zilch about beauty products, and I have never entertained the thought of going through any sex reassignment surgery.

See, at the heart of it all is that anyone who identifies as a gay man does so because he is attracted - romantically, sexually - to men. Period. That is the only thing that needs to be defined. What he wears, how he dresses, what bags he uses, which restaurants he goes to are not dictated by some "gay manual". If people see "more" gay people in industries like entertainment and fashion, it's because gay people are more readily accepted - some say essential, wink, wink - in certain fields, and let's face it: the thought of working in an environment where you could be beaten up for being honest about who you are is not exactly an appealing concept.

But it doesn't mean that someone like me, who has no idea about fashion design, will aspire to be an Oscar de la Renta just because "it's what gays (are supposed to) do" - in fact, I pity the straight guy who may be interested in dancing but doesn't learn it for fear of cultural reprisal: they work on the same assumption of compartment, that only straight guys do this, and only gay guys do that.

I've read an observation that somehow, the rules go up earlier for men, or rather boys: no crying, strength measures your manhood, emotions are for sissies. But that deserves another post.

(2) It sounds no different from a rapist telling a judge that he wouldn't have violated the victim if she wasn't wearing such a short skirt.

It's called blaming the victim. Simple. In other words, not being held accountable for our actions. In my line of thinking, even if a woman was to go streaking across EDSA, that still doesn't give you the right to forcibly have sex with her. I dare you to tell me otherwise, and come up with a plausible reason why I shouldn't persist in it.

Similarly, when you laugh/make homophobic remarks, hold yourself responsible for your words and actions. Don't pass it off by saying something lame like "eh, kasi, kalalaking tao, ganyan manamit!" Unless your name is Joan Rivers, and you work on the show called Fashion Police, everyone would best be reminded that freedom of expression also includes the right to wear, pierce, string, etc. anything on one's hair, face and body. In our secular democracy, there is no law that prevents men from wearing skirts or women from wearing pants, which I understand certain religions expressly forbid.

By all means, no one's stopping you from making fun of others. But have the balls to say it's because you're a homophobe, you revel in hatred, and won't apologize for it.

Besides, if you want to talk about gender-conforming clothing, Mr. Cruz may want to consider that his fellow priests certainly do not fall into that category themselves as far as their work clothes are concerned.

(3) What you laugh at/find worthy of ridicule is a reflection of you, and not the object of laughter.

I prefer to think of it as a Rorschach inkblot: that famous psychological tool using a series of images to determine your state of mind. We may be looking at the same thing, but we will all perceive it differently.

Likewise, when you go out of your way to denigrate someone who doesn't "measure up" to your standard of clothing, action or morality, it reveals who you are: a judgmental individual who cannot accept any other view but your own, and is hellbent with subverting any idea that contradicts yours, free choice and decision making be damned.

As a non Catholic, I appreciated what Pope Francis tried to do: extend an open palm to the LGBT community, however trite it may have seemed to some quarters. I have also read several commentaries that the core position of the Catholic Church has not changed; in fact, other priests have come out saying gays are still going to hell.

I am not looking to change anyone's religion or how they treat the LGBT community. I have long maintained that it is religion, not sexual orientation, that is a matter of choice. But the new Pope has given me a sense of his humility that I do not see quite often in religious leaders (ironically).

And as I've indicated to some friends, I prefer the Dalai Lama's formula, who said that his philosophy is kindness, and that his temple is the heart. That really is what all anyone can ask for: that we treat each other with kindness and compassion, regardless of how we identify ourselves.

That can only happen when you take your eyes off the exterior, and focus on the inside.