Name: Yvonne Kong-Ho
Medical History: Nil
Occupation: Assistant Director, Partnerships in a university
In the rush of our daily lives, we often forget how important balance is when it comes to health and our own well-being. Daily factors such as stress from work and home often creep up on us with negative results without us realising and in a vicious cycle, derails us from achieving balance. This week, we feature Yvonne Kong-Ho, who in her many years of struggling to find balance, believes that enjoying the process is the most important step when moving forward.
An Assistant Director at a University, Yvonne is also pursuing a part time PhD, takes care of her kids and somehow manages to find time to stay active and healthy. Not all of this however, was without her initial struggles.
“I was trying to stay fit and healthy as a working mum of 2 young kids, but found it incredibly hard to find time to work out -- given my busy work schedule, having to take care of my kids and supervise their academic schoolwork, cook for them, completing household chores etc. I am also in the midst of a part-time PhD” quipped Yvonne as she explained her initial struggles to find time to us and believes that this is the same situation many other mothers find themselves in.
Her frustrations mounted when she found that leaving her children to go to the gym or for a swim was an unbearable one but that not going also left her in a conflicted state of mind, which proved to be frustrating and feeding a vicious cycle. She knew that more had to be done but found it difficult to maintain balance with her responsibilities.
“I was already a very plump child -- due to a lack of physical activity, very delicious food cooked by my grandparents and almost constant snacking. These eating habits followed me all the way into my teenage years. Even when I was in the Track and Field team as a discus thrower during secondary school and junior college days, I was not able to lose weight because of my weakness for snacks and desserts.”
Her plump physique made her very self-conscious of how she looked and this caused her to compare herself endlessly with other girls while growing up. To find comfort, she turned to high sugary foods because they made her feel good and helped her to deal with the comparisons.
As a working adult and a naturally high performing individual, she has also had her fair share of struggles in maintaining balance between work and staying active and healthy.
“Work is busy but fulfilling. Given the meetings and tasks, and having to drop the kids off school, it's not possible to reach the office earlier to do a morning workout or lunch workout even though I very much would love to. Having to rush home to make sure the kids have dinner in the evenings -- I am also not able to do an evening workout at the office gym. To do a workout when the kids are in their Art/ tuition classes, I would need to plan my route very well -- drop one of them off at class, one of them will still be with me, heading off to the stadium for a quick run/ HIIT workout, keeping an eye on the kid while running and on the clock, finishing the run, making a quick dash to the supermarket to grab some groceries before picking the other kid from class.”
The Turning Point
Determined to break out of her rut, Yvonne began a regiment of planning her day in advance to change her habit cycle. She established a routine and has tied her best to stick to it since she started. She understands that while work is fulfilling, time must be set aside for other activities as pockets of space do exist but that we need to actively seek them out or else they will never surface.
Here’s an idea of what her typical day looks like :
6am: Wake up. Head to the kitchen to do meal prep/ take my supplements
630am: Shower and get dressed for work
645am: Wake kids up for school
715am: Walk kids to school
730am: Head to work via MRT
830am: Start work
545pm: Leave for home
640pm: Pick kids up
645pm: Cook a quick dinner while kids go shower. I often see if I need to prep some food for lunch the next day and do it at the same time as well.
710pm: Eat dinner with kids
740pm: Kids help to wash dishes. I start to load the washing machine with laundry.
745pm to 9pm: Sometimes, I set up my TRX at home and do a quick workout while kids start homework or do some reading. Or hold my heavy bottles of Dynamo or dumbbells to do some squats. Or do some stretches with my exercise bands while chatting with the kids.
915pm to 930pm: Put kids to bed.
930pm to 1030pm: Do some PhD work
1030pm to 11pm: Unwind and sleep
She has also discovered the beauty of enjoying the process rather than fixating solely on outcomes. Over time, this changed her mind set and her initial goal or reward of short term rewards have become one that now exists intrinsically. Her reward for all of this is the process and how the process makes her feel better after each workout, regardless how short they may be. In eating healthier, she has discovered the importance of nutrition when it comes to staying healthy and the benefits that it brings to her and the family.
Inspired by her current studies in Gerontology, focused on people who age well and remain active, she gained further insights that staying healthy and active has many long term benefits as well and is often in awe of how some people have managed to remain active and healthy despite their age.
“I realised -- in order to age well and do the many things I want to do in life, I would need to start taking care of this 'machine' of mine -- by doing regular 'maintenance' work and giving it the right fuel. If not, it would not give me the optimum performance. In order to be the best version of myself now, I realised too -- when I work out and eat well, I am really more effective as an employee, a wife, a mum and as a student. With the pressures of life, the best, most sustainable and healthiest way to manage them is eating well and staying fit.”
Her advice to other mums who wish to start out on their own journeys is to take any sort of step forward, regardless how small they are. Only in taking that first step will the wheels of change begin to move. Importantly, she has found that involving her family in the journey has also been very important and they set family goals to stay active and healthy together.
“Start small. Baby steps. And don't beat yourself up when we don’t do the 20 jumping jacks or 1min plank which we set out to do. 20 second plank is fine. We can start small. For working mums, we can bring the kids along when we want to work out! Kids have naturally high levels of energy. And it's good bonding time!”
Despite her intense schedule, Yvonne is not without her accomplishments, having completed 10 half-marathons as well as duathlons. One day, she wishes to embark on her first triathlon and aims to make it a reality after her PhD is completed.
Her emphasis on the process and aging actively has allowed her to see a much longer term goal in staying fit and healthy. Combining this with family has allowed her to find sustainability in her journey as well.
“It's very important to me that the kids love sports and are involved in sports -- Sports build up resilience and is a good platform to develop sportsmanship and for them to experience teamwork and camaraderie with their teammates. My son has been in Track and Field for two years and my daughter just started hockey in school. They do not have to win medals -- all I hope for them to do is to enjoy the sport, do their best and enjoy the ability to perspire, to move, to run and simply have fun! For my husband and I, it's important for us to have strong physical bodies to age well; to ward off sarcopenia and osteoporosis.”