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Tan Mei Sian

Growing up, my ambition was to be a doctor. Well, that wasn’t meant to be, due to my family wanting me to go into business. But I find myself now entrenched in healthcare and wellness as I oversee and pursue all ventures of that nature for Goldis Berhad.

It is not just work for me. I live it. Every weekday morning at 7:00am you will find me coaching or training at CrossFit GTX, an outdoor CrossFit box (gym) located on the 7th floor of GTower (Editor’s note: Mei Sian is a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer, one of only nine in Malaysia). CrossFit is known for its General Physical Preparedness training, which means that CrossFitters train for any physical challenge thrown at them. Life is, after all, about being ready for the unknown and the unknowable.

One of the reasons I like CrossFit is its focus on functional movements. For instance, a squat, when scaled back, is the same movement as sitting down; a deadlift is similar to picking something up from the floor. These everyday movements, which we take for granted when we are younger, become challenging as we age, and I have seen it happen to the older members of my family. Fitness and health is about prolonging these functions and reducing degradation, so that we can have the best quality of life for as long as possible.

Today, we have good acute care services and facilities. Yet, chronic diseases are taking over as the world’s leading killers, not just in Malaysia but globally. When I speak to insurance companies, they tell me that in the last few years, medical claims have skyrocketed. This is happening in spite of growing awareness and a shift towards healthier lifestyles.

Food plays an important role here. A tomato today and a tomato yesterday are not equal. Scientific studies have found that food crops grown decades ago were far richer in vitamins and minerals than they are now; intensive agricultural farming has simply depleted soil, and the fruits and vegetables which grow from it, of their nutrients.

A healthy diet can be measured using this simple equation: Healthy Diet = Nutrients ÷ Calories

We want to pack as much nutrition into as few calories as possible. When we eat the wrong foods, which are low in nutrients, our bodies signal us to eat more to obtain the nutrients we lack. Health issues occur if we fill this void with empty calories and the wrong types of foods, and may ultimately lead to weight gain, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease.

Unfortunately, most would rather pop a pill than change their lifestyles. Another reason that people have poor diets is the price of healthy foods. In the United States, a burger only costs a dollar, which may only get you half a head of cabbage in the supermarket. In Malaysia, our much-loved local hawker stalls are cheap and found at nearly every corner, while the whole foods selections here are fewer and much more expensive. Furthermore, there are many preservatives and chemicals added to our foods, which may potentially have unknown health implications to ourselves and our children. The good news is that people are generally becoming more health conscious and moving towards more natural, whole foods. What is important is education and learning how to read food labels and we ourselves selecting more nutritious foods. Even now, we can choose to forgo the roti canai breakfast and have eggs and a kopi O kosong instead.

Amidst all these new health trends, I’m very excited about the technology that is now available, which can revolutionise healthcare. Genotyping can now reveal a myriad of health risks and conditions, and the service is exponentially cheaper and quicker than before. We can now find out how one-size-fit-all medicines and dosages would affect us personally (e.g. a person found with increased sensitivity to warfarin, a blood thinner, can be given less to avoid them from bleeding excessively if ever needed). In addition, we can find out how fast we metabolise caffeine or if we are sensitive to carbohydrates in order to guide what  we should eat, if we have fast or slow twitch muscles to guide what exercises we should do, or even what diseases we may be more susceptible to, so we can prevent these from happening in the first place. With this knowledge in hand, we can make smart lifestyle choices, whether changing our diet or exercise types to complement or enhance what nature has bestowed us.

This brings me to what I believe would be an extremely powerful health tool of the future, and one which is close to my heart –Analytics. As an example, The China Study, one of the largest nutritional studies conducted to date, extensively examined the diets, lifestyle, and disease characteristics of 6,500 people in 65 rural Chinese counties. In the end, the researchers found 8,000 statistically significant associations between health, diet and lifestyle. Imagine if we could harness vast medical history data such as this and use it to predict and prevent illnesses in others. We would be able to offer personalised medicine based on genotyping as well as actual historical evidence.

I find the future of healthcare very promising and exciting; at Elements Medical Fitness, I want to offer clients this future. Healthcare should cover these aspects: predictive; preventive; personalised and proactive. We advocate functional medicine, which considers the body as a whole when diagnosing localised ailments – the cause of a symptom may not necessarily be at its location. When we discover the root cause, we treat it naturally, if possible, and refer to medical specialists when necessary.

For instance, we have had great success with our smoking cessation programme, through mind-coaching and acupuncture; there is no drug involved. Our weight loss programme has seen people shedding kilogrammes in a healthy and, very importantly, sustainable way; participants encourage and are encouraged by each other, so there is a communal spirit because of our shared health goals. This is alike the spirit of CrossFit, where we all work out together, whether beginners or advanced CrossFitters. What matters is that we go through it together and that we improve, and for this we cheer each other on.

I wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people. So, when I see people getting the results they want or improving their health, I feel like I am doing exactly that, helping people live happier, healthier, and fitter lives.