“Children in Hong Kong are unfit.” Misleading generalisation or fair assertion? Could a great number of the young people in this city use a dose of regular, heart pumping exercise? Here’s one expat’s view.
We recently noticed that our 11-year-old son was “podgy” around his stomach. Yet he played three different codes of football, swam a couple of times a week at our local club (or splashed and jumped off the diving board, at least) and attended two Sport and Physical Educational lessons a week. Still we felt he was generally unfit. For one thing, after each training session and at the end of each day, he would seem lethargic or even exhausted.
First we looked at his food and fluid intake: poached or scrambled eggs or cereal for breakfast; a lunchbox including a sandwich or roll, fruit, a homemade baked item such as a slice or muffin, and a frozen fruit box; dinner, the usual expat fare – meat and vegetables, or spaghetti bolognaise and salad with plenty of water.
After talking with other mothers, we learnt that our sons’ shared similar food habits with other boys in the grade, and they too showed signs of exhaustion.
One thing we also discussed and compared was the incidental exercise that the children were involved in each day; for example, walking to the MTR or kicking a footy at a private club – or all the things we did as children when our parents told us to get out of the house.
It seemed clear that we needed to spend more time thinking about the general health and wellbeing of our expat children growing up in Hong Kong. In many cases, kids here are unable to run around a backyard, ride a bike in a large open space, skateboard or rollerblade, swim in the surf or, dare I say it, swing on the clothesline and try not to get caught (sorry, I’m reminiscing about a childhood long gone where one was not required to wear a Stackhat!) – at least, not without the direct supervision of parents. The other factor is that, living in a Hong Kong apartment, using a computer, Xbox or Playstation are often the preferred pastimes of children; and, let’s face it, after a long day at work coupled with a busy lifestyle, energy levels can be low, so it’s an easy habit to fall into.
Luckily for me, my husband and our son were invited to join another father-and-son team to exercise a couple of times a week in a boot-camp-style activity, before the heat of the day and school. The hope was that the boys would become fitter for the upcoming rugby season, be able to run a couple of laps around the oval with ease, and even strengthen their core muscles before they hit puberty.
The dads were happy to do exactly what the boys were doing – or at least attempt it, initially – and to encourage them; perhaps there would be a by-product and they would also lose a few kilos around their bellies – or even become “buff” or “ripped”, to use their words (I would have said “toned”…).
The first few sessions were physically tough. The boot campers all tried hard to impress each other. Personal limitations were tested. There was no blood, but plenty of sweat and a few personal “man tears” over sore muscles while soaking in a Radox bath.
After three weeks, the change was significant, both to the big boys and the smaller ones. Walking out the door at 6am, their pre-exercise grumbling was becoming minimal, while their stamina, speed and agility all improved immensely. Nothing like a little father-son competition!
The daughters of both families also joined because they felt they were missing out – though I secretly suspect they all believed they could outdo their brothers and dads. So the sessions became a family affair three times a week. I gladly waved them all off with a cup of tea in hand, claiming the house to myself for a quiet hour so I could mentally prepare for my own day’s work.
After six weeks, they were all boasting about being able to run a couple of kilometres with ease, outsprint each other up the oval, do x number of sits-ups in a minute, skip at a certain speed, and do hill sprints, dips and push-ups. These are some of the terms used in dinner table discussions, always with plenty of banter about each other’s performances.
We’re now at the five-month stage. The planned exercise has made a huge difference in our family’s life, especially for our son. He isn’t necessarily trim, but he’s definitely becoming taut (“ripped”, in his words). And he will always be terrific, through this mother’s eye.
Also, his dedication (obviously with continued support and sometimes dragging) to becoming healthier and fitter is now extending into his choices when purchasing food at the school canteen and general food outlets. Watching him play football recently, I noticed that his general stamina, agility and confidence have improved significantly. He is learning how to win, scoring that try himself and not passing it off to the fastest child – because he is slowly becoming that child.
Getting children involved in structured and incidental exercise is at times difficult and requires a general commitment on the part of parents to instilling positive lifestyle habits. Fitness and being fit is one area that flows into all areas of one’s life. In view of the stories of childhood obesity, mental illness and other related conditions in the newspaper every other week, I believe it’s our duty and privilege as parents to provide sustained opportunities for our children to be exposed to and immersed in while living as expats. There are really no excuses!
To help, here’s a list of a few of my favourite sporting associations and resources in Hong Kong.
- Australian Rules Football: Auskick for juniors (auskick-hk.com)
- Hockey (hockey.org.hk)
- Horse-riding at Clearwater Bay (ceec.hk)
- Netball, run by the Hong Kong Netball Association (netball.org.hk)
- Rugby with our local club, DeA Tgiers (deatigersrfc.com)
- Sailing through the Hebe Haven Yacht Club (hhyc.org.hk)
- Soccer and Swimming through Platypus Aquatics (platypusaquatics.com)
Check the websites for locations, contacts, information about trainers/coaches, and calendars of events. Also, your child’s Physical Education Teacher or Activities Coordinator at school should have current information on what is available and the seasons in which sports are played (though most run all year round). Many schools also have extra-curricular activities after school that children can access and enjoy.
There truly is something for every expat child growing up in Hong Kong. I hope this article helps new families who may have just arrived, or serves as a timely reminder for the “old” ones to help provide their children, big or small, with regular activity, whether it’s incidental and structured.
So, good luck. Oh, and buy some Radox!