Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Get fit, Malaysia

KHAIRY Jamaluddin has a target to realise this October, but it is not of the type that is usually announced by his boss, the Prime Minister.
The Minister of Youth And Sports has signed up for the 10km run at the Standard Chartered KL Marathon and he aims to finish it in under an hour, an average of one kilometre in 6 minutes.

The 10km run is divided into three categories, based on the time limit for each runner to complete the race. Seventy-five minutes is the shortest time limit (Speed Category), so this makes his target of 60 minutes very respectable.

“On a good day, I can run a kilometre in 5 minutes. But it takes longer on other days, so that is something that I have to work on,” says Khairy.

But he’s confident and enjoys the exercise. He’s even considering taking part in a short triathlon in the next couple of years if his schedule permits.

He probably got the bug for competitive sports after joining our national track cyclists for a morning ride in Melbourne, Australia where the athletes trained.

Azizulhasni Awang posted a video on Facebook of their sprint up a hill in a Melbourne suburb, and it’s obvious that Khairy was very serious about keeping up with the professionals.

But whether the professionals were taking it easy with the Minister alongside, well, only they can tell.


While it’s good to have a sports minister who is active and serious about his fitness, it isn’t much to shout about if the rest of the population lean towards the sedentary side, with an unhealthy diet to boot.

“Our overall fitness and sports participation are not terribly encouraging,” says Khairy.
“We have serious public health issues. Malaysia is one of the top countries in Southeast Asia when it comes to diabetes, hypertension, heart-related illnesses — all the lifestyle diseases. This is reflective of the fact that we don’t really care about fitness.”

Hence FitMalaysia. If you follow Khairy on Twitter or Facebook, you’re probably already familiar with it. The hashtag #FitMalaysia is full of pictures of Malaysians running, cycling, playing ping-pong at lunchtime, lifting weights at the gym... you get the idea. It’s his Ministry’s big push to get Malaysians off the couch and exercising.

“It’s our big lifestyle campaign to get people to exercise. We’re going to raise awareness about health issues and about how sports is good for community building and uniting the country,” says Khairy.

The first of the one-day carnival will take place in Dataran Merdeka on Sept 7, followed by events in all the State capitals. FitMalaysia focuses on four principal fitness activities: Running, cycling, fitness programmes like aerobics, zumba and cross training, and martial arts.

Social media plays a key role and you can use the event to find out about your local sports clubs or connect with new fitness-minded friends.


In Kuala Lumpur, getting fit often means joining a gym and paying the rather hefty membership fee or parting with even more money to buy fancy sports equipment. I was concerned that there is a kind of exclusivity when it comes to exercising, where people end up spending a lot of money to do it, or not do it at all.

“Of the four activities in FitMalaysia, three are quite accessible, apart from the cycling,” says Khairy. “For cycling you need a bicycle, but even that can be quite affordable if you don’t go for a high-end model. If you’re a recreational cyclist, you can get one for a few hundred ringgit.

“Running doesn’t cost much. You just need a pair of shoes and the road. Fitness stations where you can do pull-ups, are available in public parks. For yoga, you need an instructor, but you can pool with a few people. And it’s the same thing with martial arts.”

The Ministry is trying to promote activities that people can readily and easily do by themselves or with a group of friends. The good news is that there’s already a big crowd of runners and cyclists and that helps motivate people to join in.

Khairy wants to attract the people who don’t have any health or physical obstacles to exercise, yet aren’t exercising. He’s not impressed with some of the excuses he’s heard.

“People say, ‘oh it’s hot here, it’s humid, I can’t go out’. I mean, get over it! You can’t change the weather. Don’t say that it’s different in Australia or London where it’s cool and you don’t sweat. This is our weather, so you just have to adapt to it,” he says.


At the end of the day, what he wants is to see a noticeable difference in the health of the population as a result of the programme. And he is working with the Ministry of Health to obtain the necessary data and information.

“You don’t run a campaign and at the end of the day, see no change. We can do FitMalaysia and bring it to every State once every year, but that’s one day in a year. There has to be a legacy, it has to sustain,” he says.

“A lot depends on the people themselves. We can’t hold their hands. I cannot do FitMalaysia every day and bring them to the gym. People wouldn’t want that anyway. They would start hating me!”
He is optimistic that a successful FitMalaysia campaign will lead to better results in the sporting arena too.

A more active society will create more athletes. With increased competitiveness and sporting spirit, perhaps we will finally win the prizes that have long eluded us, like a first Olympic gold medal or a spot in the World Cup final.

For now, he is satisfied with the little things. “It makes me extremely happy to see people working out. It makes me happiest when I see somebody who, I think, has realised the need to work out and is working out. By that, I mean people who are obviously not in good shape but are trying.

“I see a couple of guys like that in my neighbourhood. Because I run there, I sometimes, see new faces running and a few months later, they are still doing it. That makes me the happiest because I can see the change in how they look. While I don’t know them personally, I’m sure there will be a change in their lifestyle as well.”


Our society is very generous when it comes to food, whether it’s food for ourselves or for others.
“It’s a big challenge as a politician,” says Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister of Youth And Sports. “It’s not easy because you have to eat at a lot of functions and sometimes you can’t turn people down because that’s not nice.“

So he employs the portion control strategy, particularly when he goes to his Rembau constituency in Negri Sembilan on weekends.

He may be invited to as many as four weddings in one day and each host expects him to eat.
“There’s a trick around it and it’s the rice. Everyone knows this but they don’t practise it because rice is good. But you have to control your rice intake. If I have to go to four weddings, I will only take a quarter portion of rice each time. I still end up with one full serving,” he reveals.

During the week, he usually has an early dinner with his children.

He says: “They eat early, so by 7.30pm, they’re done and I’m done as far as dinner is concerned. But it is difficult when you’re a politician and you have to attend functions or work till very late. If you eat at 7pm and are still awake at 1am, you’ll probably be hungry. So the temptation is to go to the kitchen, the mamak or get a burger or whatever. I think that is the biggest challenge.”

FitMalaysia. This is the beginning

Campaign kicks off on Sept 7 at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur
•Covers four types of activities: Running, cycling, self defence, and fitness activities.
•Register your participation at www.fit.my
•Interact at facebook.com/fitmalaysians, on Twitter @FitMalaysians and instagram.com/fitmalaysians.

Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup - NST 

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