Conversation with a CEO: BTL Singapore Branch Manager Ms Fiona Ho
Whether we are aiming to achieve our fitness goals or simply want to look good in a swimsuit/swimming trunks, acquiring a toned physique and (hopefully) a sculpted set of six-pack abs is a goal shared by many people. But as we grow older, acquiring a toned physique and, especially, a six-pack is hard work. It requires dedication and commitment. The truth is: attaining a good physique is not just about hitting the gym seven days a week or lifting weights incessantly like a professional bodybuilder. Beyond exercise, a few modifications to various aspects of our lifestyle can be enough to produce serious, long-lasting results.
For this issue, we have the pleasure of speaking with BTL Singapore Branch Manager Ms Fiona Ho, a workout enthusiast, on the subject of working out, and other aspects of health and wellness. Founded in 1993, BTL has grown to become one of the world’s major manufacturers of medical equipment. The company’s key segments include physical therapy, cardiology and medical aesthetics. Many of us will certainly be familiar with BTL’s flagship product: BTL Emsculpt Neo – the world’s first ever FDA-approved, non-invasive, effective and fast body sculpting procedure to combine radio frequency heating and high-intensity focused electromagnetic plus (HiFEM+) waves into a single treatment to burn fats and build muscles simultaneously.
Good afternoon, Fiona. It is great to meet you at Boat Quay. This is the first time we are conducting an interview at a Muay Thai Gym in the heart of the city! Let’s kick off this interview with the customary: what do the words “health and wellness” mean to you on a personal level?
Ms Fiona Ho: To me, health and wellness is being bright and alert every day! I was never active in my younger days. In fact, I used to avoid PE lessons by making up excuses about me being asthmatic! I was not plump to begin with, so I took for granted that I would always be a naturally slim person and could just eat whatever I wanted. That was until I got a severe reality check from my mother.
One day, out of the blue, she just went at me, “Oh my god! Will you please go and do something?! Your butt looks horrible!!” I thought it was a harsh comment at that time, but it turned out to be a great thing. It led to the beginning of my gym days. I was 18 years old at the time and initially, I was not doing it out of being health conscious. It was for simple vanity reasons.
While my goal back then was to look good, my objective has since changed. I now work out to feel good. I have also found that eating well makes a difference during workouts and in turn, a good workout affects your mood and sleep.
I think you have just hit the nail on the head. A healthy lifestyle is not just about physical exercises and little else. From your personal experience, what do you think are the different aspects that make up a healthy lifestyle?
FH: Yes, a healthy lifestyle is not just about exercising. It is also about eating well and having ample sleep. Personally, I think I am managing it (a healthy lifestyle) well. I admit to having cheat days, but keep in mind that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very challenging, amidst the necessity of working irregular hours and visiting clients.
By the end of most working days, it is a mental struggle to force myself to go to the gym. Hence, I have found a solution to this…by joining classes! In a class, you do not have to plan your workout. All you have to do is listen and follow. This keeps your mind off work, as well as other stresses or frustrations. I make it a point to go for 1 or 2 classes every day and that has become a habit. Having a good workout ends my day well. It helps me to sleep better too. There is also an unexpected bonus: we need to keep our phones away in the gym. This gives me the time and space to fully utilize and devote these moments to myself. We should all take some time off our phones and listen to our body.
Earlier on, you mentioned briefly about eating well. Eating well normally conjures up two images: Eating in Moderation and Following a Diet. What is your personal experience with these two ideas?
FH: I think eating in moderation is fine and good enough. You only live once, so why torture yourself by denying yourself the foods you enjoy? Having said that, eating in moderation means thinking thoroughly about when you should eat these foods. For example, greasy food gives me acid reflux during cardiovascular exercises, so I will think twice before I plan to have my mala hotpot. But that does not mean I never have them. If I plan to have a heavy workout the next day, I will make sure that I have enough proteins and carbohydrates the night before. It is not difficult for me, but I know people around me find that it is a torture to plan what you eat.
In terms of following a diet, I did follow the keto diet for a week and just gave up after that! Cutting off carbohydrates completely made me cranky, and crave for sweets. Diets might be useful for some people, but it is definitely not for me.
Besides your food intake, do you also take supplements?
FH: I have been taking fish oil and flaxseed oil for a couple of years now. These are mainly for my dry skin. They are good for me, but might not be necessary for other people.
You are obviously a very active person and enjoy working out a lot. That is why we are meeting here – at a Muay Thai gym after your workout. Talk us through the merits of physical activities.
FH: Well, I think it is common knowledge that cardiovascular exercises strengthen our heart and help it to pump blood throughout the body more efficiently. I believe it also mobilizes joint health. So that is the obvious part out of the way.
As I mentioned, I only started going to the gym at the age of 18. At that time, my interests were only in yoga and weight lifting. They were serving a different set of purpose then. In recent years, I started doing more cardiovascular stuff as my objectives change. I started doing Muay Thai, Reformer Pilates and Body Pump. I go to the gym at least 5 times a week. In fact, my son goes for Muay Thai with me.
I think, beyond the physical aspects, these activities also help me mentally. It is a form of destressing for me and helps me to get rid of my anxieties. I look forward to going to the gym which I call “my playground” every day. I would much rather do this than go to the bar or lie in bed watching Netflix. At the same time, as my son also attends Muay Thai with me, gym time serves as a form of bonding between us.
Does your workouts help you with your rest/sleep?
FH: I have my anxieties like everyone else. My playground (gym) is my only place of relaxation. It is the only place where my phone is not with me and where my body takes control. Those 2 hours in my playground help me to calm down. They also help me to sleep better. I need at least 5-8 hours of sleep a day. I am not young anymore. Anything less than 5 hours of sleep for me and you will be facing a cranky old woman.
Well, we have hit the last part of our interview, where we ask our interviewees about health and wellness advice they have for our readers. What would you say to our readers about living more healthily?
FH: It is all in the mind; whatever you want to put into your life. The biggest challenge in life is yourself. Setting your phone aside and listening to your body, or spending time with your loved ones is a choice. You can easily stop yourself from doing these things. You can give yourself plenty of excuses for not getting these done. But if you choose to do these, there are also plenty of ways to do them. For exercise, do not be fixated with the gym.
You can exercise by walking up a flight of stairs, or by alighting 2 bus stops away from your home and walking the rest of the way back. You can do simple squats or stretches while watching TV. Likewise, choosing what to eat is a choice. For example, even if your work results in irregular mealtimes, you can easily carry protein bars in your bag as a snack in between meetings and appointments. Not getting enough rest might be a problem for some, but I think it is something that can be managed. These are all little things that we can do easily.
Do you think the pandemic has changed the way people view and value health?
FH: To some extent, I feel that the 2020 Circuit Breaker was a blessing in disguise. People whom I know did not use to exercise, started working out during that period, and they have been active ever since. On the other hand, there were also some who started taking a break from their active regime during that time and got used to not doing anything at all after that. What a contradiction! I think that for lifestyle changes, you have to try it out for at least a month to reap the benefits; and if it is good for you, you should then consider whether you can or want to sustain it long-term. No one can convince yourself, except you.
Final word: three top advice for our Prime readers.
FH: First, set 2-3 hours away from your mobile phone/laptop every day. Spend this time doing something for yourself. Nobody, but yourself. Secondly, eat “clean” for at least 2 days a week. Thirdly, increase your water intake. Start with 1 glass more a day for a week.
Start with these baby steps – something achievable and not too demanding – and you will be on your way to a healthier you.