And change how you feel and look


“A lot of people say they want to get fit,” says fitness trainer and Word columnist Phil Kelly. “So they jump on a treadmill. The reason they want to get fit is because their body isn’t as healthy as it should be, but if their body is already unhealthy and in crisis, exercise is a stresser.”


He adds: “You don’t get fit from the exercise. You get fit from recovering from the exercise.”


According to Phil, the key to getting healthy is to look at four aspects of changing who you are and changing your lifestyle. But you always need to bear in mind the body’s need for recovery.


“When you’re doing exercise,” he explains, “you’re breaking your body. It’s when your body recovers from doing that exercise that it repairs itself and you start getting more healthy.”


Lifestyle and Nutrition


To help with recovery, the first two changes to focus on are lifestyle and nutrition. This, says Phil, reduces the stress you put on your body when you exercise.


But, he warns: “If you improve your nutrition yet are staying up to two or three in the morning and only getting two or three hours sleep, it’s not going to really do much. Your health will improve but the work you put in won’t have the maximum benefit. Likewise, if you’re totally stressed out and under the gun at work, you’re going to be held back.”


Finding the right equilibrium means ensuring you get enough sleep and that your diet is balanced.


So, consume less carbohydrates or “empty calories” like potatoes, rice, beer and pasta, and instead increase the amount of fibrous vegetables you eat. Fibrous vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals, and include anything which is green; asparagus, Brussels sprouts, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, ochre, salad vegetables and so on. Also, avoid processed food and most importantly, make sure you have variety.


For lifestyle, if you’re out drinking five times a week, cut it down to two or three. If you’re job is stressful, then take breaks, time out when you do something completely different to relieve the stress.


The Mental Aspect


“Everyone has a subconscious image of themselves,” says Phil. “So you have to have a strong mindset to be able to stick with [getting healthy]. It’s not the exercise or changing what you eat, it’s the habit change.”


One key challenge is peer pressure. You need to ensure you don’t let your friends affect what you’re trying to achieve.


“By changing who you are it sometimes threatens how other people see you,” he explains. “A lot of people will tell their friends, oh I’m doing this healthy thing, but their friends will say, oh no, eat, drink with us. Because when you change, it affects your relationship with them, because they are still doing the same thing.”


To get over this, and to create positive habits, Phil suggests making a plan.


“People don’t set clear goals or write them down,” says Phil. “So, write down exactly what you want to achieve each week.”


He adds: “You’ve got to make sure that these goals are specific. And each week you change something.”


When you make this plan, you need to ask yourself: “How long do I need to recover before I train again?” If you can’t recover properly, you can’t get fitter and you’re going to get strained.


“People often push too hard too soon,” warns Phil. “So they don’t gain too much. And they’re eating less, too. So, eat less, do more but not recovering is a huge recipe for disaster. They crash and burn out after a few months.”


Changing Goals


Once you’ve achieved your initial goals, you need to revise them.


“The key word is periodisation,” says Phil. “You should be looking month in, month out, at revamping your training plan. Because if you’re doing the same thing again and again, the body’s getting better, but it’s adjusting to that particular workload. This will mean you’re going to be fit for that workload and nothing else.”


Phil suggests building sport into any long-term plans, something that has an element of play.


“Sports are good because you’re socialising,” he explains. “They’re multi-directional, fun, and require good coordination. They’re mentally stimulating and quite often if you go to the gym, it’s not interesting. For long-term success there has to be some form of play, some form of socialisation.”


So, let’s take cycling — a huge part is the social side. Cycling with friends, the lifestyle, the clothing, accessories, chatting to people about cycling. It’s the same with every sport.


Adds Phil: “People think they should just go to the gym and that’s it. But why? Why not do gym and cycling as well? Play football or squash? There’s no reason for just doing the gym, because you’re missing out on the benefits of everything else.”


Phil is founder and master trainer at Body Expert Studio, Hem 215, B19A Nguyen Van Huong, Q2, HCMC. For more info click on


Photos by Mike Palumbo




To read about some ideas for personal change, click on the following links:


Learning Vietnamese


Get Into Stand-Up Comedy


Take Art Classes


Get Professional Help


Get Healthy


Nutrition and Vietnamese Food


The Power of Habit


The following stories are about people who have made substantial personal change. For some inspiration, click on the following links:


Todd Gilmore, The Triathlete


Sophie Pham, The Introvert


Ha Minh, The Woman


Laura Sheehan, The Mentor


Robin Babu, The Fitness Dude


Sheereen Amran, The Pastry Chef


Mitch Brookman, The Hairdresser


The Word

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