Asian Americans are choosing healthy and fit lifestyles
By Mary Jeneverre Schultz | Asian Avenue magazine
Staying active and eating right are two ingredients for a healthy lifestyle. With white-collar jobs and nine-to-five schedules, it’s difficult to spend time at the gym, while family obligations are calling loud and clear during the weekdays. Then, during the weekends, it’s easier to sit in front of the television to catch up on shows, lounge around the house and push back the exercise obligation to next week.
But how are Asian Americans doing it right?
Despite the challenges and excuses, middle- and upper-class families within Asian communities are maintaining healthy lifestyles in Colorado. Asians/Pacific Islanders are less likely to be obese or overweight and have only one third of the rate of obesity compared to the state’s population as a whole, according to 2009 Health Disparity Fact Sheet for Asians/Pacific Islanders in Colorado and the Office of Health Disparities.
New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also show that the thinnest Americans are Asian Americans. The report reveals that only 38 percent of Asian American adults have a body mass index over 25, the threshold for being considered overweight. That’s far below the 66 percent rate among whites, 76 percent rate among blacks and 78 percent rate among Latinos.
So what are Asian Americans doing to stay fit?
Christina Onpeng, health and fitness coach, graduated from University of Colorado Boulder in May 2011. She noticed weight gain and actively shed the increase through a cleansing program called Shakeology.
“One of my friends posted how she lost ten pounds from drinking Shakeology and I was desperate so I decided to try it,” said Onpeng, adding she now enjoys jumpstarting others through a fitness journey. “It felt amazing and the weight started to fall off.”
Exercising is drudgery – same routine, day in and day out. But fitness gurus suggest a minimum of three visits to the gym with about one hour of exercise through cycling or running the treadmill.
Fitness coaches maintain that exercise is an essential component to healthy lifestyles. “I hated exercises and still dread it sometimes but the endorphins after completing a workout make it completely worth it,” Onpeng said. “Once people started noticing, I started to realize the importance of exercises and how it gave me more energy.”
Andrew Bui, a student at University of Colorado Denver, admits that part of his motivation to stay in shape is for his appearance.
“It is true that if you look good, you feel good,” he said.
Bui also believes that achieving personal goals is motivating. “There’s nothing better than setting a physical goal and reaching it,” he said.
“Fitness is addicting for me. It relieves stress and boredom. I workout about five to six times a week for two hours. This usually includes weightlifting and cardio. Everything in moderation!”
Having a “workout buddy” also helps to stay on track. Bui frequently exercises with his uncle, Terry Rathburn, who has become his informal personal trainer. Rathburn pushes Bui to give 100 percent with each workout.
Through observations, Onpeng shares that it seems Asian Americans perceive eating healthy means dieting. “The Asian American community sees healthy’ foods as diet and not fuel or nature’s medicine,” Onpeng said. “Even my own family used to make fun of me because I would choose healthier options when we would dine out and I would choose to skip out on dessert.”
In addition, cultural notions are attached to food. In a Filipino-American household, parents and older relatives can accuse individuals of being “pleasantly plump” yet offer food in the same greeting.
“I think it’s harder for the Asian American community to take care of their health because we love food,” Ongpeng said. “We are always greeted by food at family events, visiting family, etc.”
For Amos Park, who works full-time in the finance industry, he prepares meals at the beginning of the week to take for lunch. This helps regulate eating out at restaurants and also saves money.
Park said, “Fitness is important to me because it gives me more energy to enjoy life’s activities. It all starts with diet and being mindful of what you put into your body. I make sure to eat more veggies and fruits and less junk food.”
Once healthy habits set in, it becomes a lifetime commitment. Kelly Trujillo, member of NAAAP Lead Toastmasters, shares her daughter helped her get out of eating processed food. “She threw out oil, butter, sugar, flour, rice – all of it,” Trujillo said. “I was shocked when I came home but it did make sense.”
Younger generations and those born in the United States with higher education among the Asian Americans are showing healthy trends, according to Patricia Tabbilos, program coordinator of health projects at the Asian Pacific Development Center (APDC) in Aurora. Tabbilos, Filipino-American, shares she noticed this trend even among her own siblings living in Colorado.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Asian/Pacific Islander population is as likely to have health insurance as all Coloradans.
“It’s about awareness and health education,” said Eri Asano, clinic director for the behavioral health clinic at APDC.
Recent figures show a healthy population among Asian Americans. Ninety-one percent of Whites and Asian in Colorado report having good to excellent health, according to the 2013 Health Disparities Report produced by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Office of Health Equity.
Another report supports the healthy populations within Asian Americans mirroring Caucasians. According to the ASA Series on How Race and Ethnicity Matters, Asian Americans are more likely to engage in preventive health practices related to diet, smoking, exercise and use of screen tests.
Social Media and Technology
Many platforms are available to users, who are interested in tracking their daily habits. Sometimes, it starts as simple as tracking food intake. Whether it is Facebook or Twitter, your friends can also become a support base in achieving goals in weight loss, exercise regimen or just being healthy.
“I like to use my social media as a tool to share my journey with others and being able to inspire others to start working out and eating healthy,” Onpeng said. “It’s a way for me to showcase that being healthy can be fun and that eating healthy isn’t boring.”
Activity tracking wristbands, such as Fitbit and Jawbone UP, sync to an application on the phone and computer. The personal activity tracker can help reach goals such as losing weight, increasing physical activity and controlling the number of calories consumed.
Seeing how much activity you get day-by-day and week-by-week, can be motivating. At the very least, it will make you more mindful of your activity level, which is a huge first step to getting fit.
By conducting an Internet search for training programs, you will also find numerous schedules, routines and tips for running, walking or completing daily activities. Rock and Roll Marathons and RunDisney websites offer a list of suggestions in training for these sport events. Sometimes, it takes an activity such as a marathon to think about healthy lifestyles. Other training programs include: www.halhigdon.com/training and www.runnersworld.com/training.
While it might be in the genes and ancestral blood lines, living a healthy lifestyle may result in longevity. Take a look at recent figures. It is significant to note that Asian American women have the highest life expectancy (85.8 years) of any other ethnic group in the U.S.
Life expectancy varies among Asian subgroups: Filipino (81.5 years), Japanese (84.5 years), and Chinese women (86.1 years), according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Minority Health.
While Asian Americans are healthy, they are not invincible. In 2010, the ten leading causes of death for Asian Americans were:
2. Heart Disease
4. Unintentional Injuries
6. Influenza and Pneumonia
7. Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases
8. Nephritis, Nephrotic Syndrome, & Nephrosis (Kidney Disease)
9. Alzheimer’s Disease
While Asian Americans are deemed “the thinnest” of all groups, numerous factors may threaten their health, including infrequent medical visits due to the fear of deportation, language and cultural barriers, and the lack of health insurance.
Christina Pham, a dental student at University of Colorado said, “Health is important to me because it affects not only the quality of my life, but also the longevity. I want to make sure I am healthy so that I can live a full and happy life!”
She says that while she isn’t able to find time for a regular workout, she makes sure what she puts into her body is healthy.
“I recently did a five-day juice cleanse, which replaces all meals with juice made from a combination of fruits and vegetables. It’s meant to cleanse the toxins from your body. The energy that your body would normally use towards digesting food goes towards resetting your body to work most efficiently.”
Pham’s goal is to replace one meal a day with fresh juice to keep up with the cleanse. Setting goals, like Pham, help to stay on track.
If you committed to a New Year’s resolution in living a healthy lifestyle, good for you. “Start with baby steps, don’t deprive your body of treats,” Onpeng said.
But if you neglected your New Year’s commitment, hopefully information in this article will motivate you to jump start your personal promise.
Mary Jeneverre Schultz is attempting a half-marathon in October. Follow her on Twitter @Jeneverre.