By NASA MARIA ENTABAN
SIVARAJAN Gunarajan used to be obese. When he was 19, he weighed 101kg, ate whatever he wanted and never exercised.
Over the past three years, however, he shed all his excess weight, won the title of Mr Malaysia Top Model 2010 and adopted healthy eating habits.
Here’s the clincher: Siva, as he likes to be known, did all this by himself.
Like 22-year-old Siva, today’s youth are an independent bunch. If they want something done, they do it themselves.
More than ever, young people are beginning to take a real interest in staying fit and eating right, and doing everything by themselves. After all, the subject is hard to ignore – it’s in magazines, on television and radio, and on your Facebook newsfeed.
The perception that youths are careless with their health is changing – many twentysomethings have realised that the time for taking care of themselves is now, not when they are older and already weighed down with health issues.
For today’s young people, signing up with a personal trainer, paying thousands of ringgit for classes at the gym and getting a life coach to keep them in check are no-nos, as they would rather be in complete control over their health.
Some people find it tough to work around a gym schedule. Even with a personal trainer, squeezing in time for sessions can be challenging.
A lot of young people – even those who hold full-time jobs – find that they can’t afford to hire a personal trainer and would rather come up with a regime they can tailor to their personal needs, at no cost.
The reason why many youths have taken the DIY approach to their health is simply because they can, and they have the resources.
Young people like Siva have adopted healthy lifestyles, custom-made by them, for them.
“I frequented the gym, but used research I had done online, on my own, to tailor my workouts to my needs,” says the IT student.
“There are a lot of fitness experts out there on the Internet who share their exercise tips for free, so what I do is I adopt their workout plans but I pick and choose exercises and then combine them to suit me,” he explains.
Almost anyone you ask will tell you that the biggest challenge they face when it comes to staying fit is finding the time to set aside for exercising.
Many find it difficult to fit team sports like basketball, football and even specialised exercise activities like dancing in their working adult or student’s schedule.
So, the next best thing is solo training.
Fitness DVDs, mobile applications and YouTube videos are some of the tools people are using as guides to exercising in their homes.
A quick Internet search will list out thousands of exercise videos you can work out to. Many smartphone applications have made it even easier for one to put in the work without having to fork out any cash.
Teng Tien Ming, 29, has been doing the “Insanity Workout”, which as the name suggests, is an intense home workout DVD that you do in stages.
“The DVD comes with a calendar that informs you which video to work out to, when, and for how long,” explains Tien Ming. “It’s been called one of the hardest workouts in the United States, but if you stick to it you’ll see results in no time.”
Gyms and fitness classes may be packed most days, but for the shy and reserved who don’t feel comfortable working out in the presence of others, home workouts are the best option.
“For people who are not at their ‘optimum’ fitness level, workout DVDs and YouTube exercise videos are a great place to start until they start feeling more comfortable about exercising in public,” says Tien Ming.
Pretty much everything one needs to know about health and fitness is available online, and most of the information is free, a definite plus point for the young and Internet-savvy.
Information on healthy eating and dietary supplements are so readily available,
Although she is not a fan of exercising, singer and food blogger Kelly Siew Yiew Chin tries to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day based on YouTube videos, in addition to her detailed health plan.
“I’m actually very obsessive about what I eat,” says Kelly, laughing. “I have a health plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner that I stick to 90% of the time.”
Kelly, 28, decided to undergo this lifestyle change when she realised she usually goes overboard with the eating and drinking every Christmas and Chinese New Year.
“I have done a lot of research online about different sorts of diets like the vegan diet or vegetarian diet, and I use these health plans as a guide to my daily eating habits,” says Kelly, who rarely eats out and cooks all her own meals.
What goes into each meal is a result of hours of research online and figuring out how to supplement certain ingredients in western recipes that are not available in Malaysia.
When in doubt, people head to forums on nutrition and fitness which are filled with information from experts in the field, and like-minded health enthusiasts who have experimented with numerous methods and recipes.
Of course there is no way of knowing whether these experts are legit, which is why you have to dedicate hours into researching information and counter-checking everything in different websites and forums.
“Some experts are so passionate about what they do that they give information out for free, and many celebrity trainers have blogs that you can base your health regimes on,” says Siva.
Mass communications student Caleb Yeoh, 22, set out to get healthy and build more muscle two years ago. He discovered that putting time into researching diets and fitness online also help dispel a lot of myths, for example that all calories and fats are bad for you.
“You’re the only one that can truly get to know what your body’s needs are – many people may not even realise that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to health. Everyone has different body types, and it is only through trial and error that you can learn how to reach your best fitness level,” he says.
While working out on your own time, out of view from anyone else and to a fitness schedule that is tailored to your needs seems ideal for today’s youth, you should be concerned about injury and overdoing it.
This part is tricky, but according to the youths we interviewed, it’s all about trial and error.
“When you first start out you have to be careful to not push yourself too much,” says Siva. “Look for videos or articles that tell you specifically how your body is supposed to respond to the exercise. It will take some time, but eventually you will get to know your limits and what your body can handle.”
One setback of working out on your own with no supervision is that the only person stopping you from pressing the “stop” button on your media player – is yourself.
“With no one to monitor you like a trainer would in a gym, it would be so easy to lose motivation and switch off the DVD when you get tired,” says Tien Ming. “You need a lot of discipline to keep going and stay motivated.”
Of course where nutrition is concerned, if you have existing health problems or extreme food allergies, it is always best to consult a doctor, face-to-face.
But for young people who are ready to take control of their own health, there’s nothing like knowing you achieved something all on your own to boost your confidence and keep you motivated.