Fit & Fab: Belinda Koo
Belinda Koo knows the importance of a healthy heart - and she's on a mission to make sure Hongkongers do, too.
When she was just five, her father died of a heart attack and, years later as a mother of two young children, faced her own heart troubles. Fearful of history repeating, she made radical changes and embraced a daily workout regime.
She soon found herself building fitness as well as resolve. She believes a daily dose of exercise is transformational, for our minds and our hearts.
Ten years on, the managing director in private wealth management at UBS is also a master of her own fitness enterprise - XYZ indoor cycling studio in Central. One of the greatest forms of cardio for heart health, the studio features a darkened cave-like theatre with 48 bikes, mesmerising music and incorporates weights for upper-body strength.
"It's like a party with your friends and with music," she says. "You need to have a strong heart, and to find a way to build one in an enjoyable way."
She discovered the hip cycling trend while travelling in New York two years ago. Within six months, her handpicked team had opened the doors.
"I always thought indoor cycling could be better. I didn't like being in glass rooms, being distracted by watching others or feeling like I was being looked at, and I didn't always like the choice of music," she says.
"I wanted a place where people would accept cardio as a way of exercise that wasn't boring or difficult."
Standing in the way of her mission, she says, are some of the poor views of fitness and beauty in the city. "I'd like to encourage Hong Kong to hold different views," she says. "In Western countries, women are encouraged to exercise, they're not afraid of building muscles, or sweating or having messy hair. How we define beauty [in Hong Kong] is quite different, and it's not good for our overall health."
How do you define beauty? Beauty is when you are functional. Your organs, your breathing system, your heart, your muscles and your bones; if they're all functional, you are happy and you radiate health and confidence. That, for me, is real beauty.
Is being healthy easy? It's about having discipline. People want to be fit and healthy, but they're not prepared to put the effort in, or let it happen naturally. They want to just pay for it. But like anything else, you have to work for it. And to do that, you need to step outside your comfort zone.
Where does it all begin? With our children. Sport teaches kids about good stamina, helps them to destress and to interact with others. It's a good platform to learn how to stay strong and motivated and to help overcome obstacles. While parents in Hong Kong encourage children to do sports at a young age - they want them to be competitive, learn to work in a team and get into a good school. Once they're in the right school, however, so many cut the sport and force their children to focus on academics.
Fitness is important in our lives, not just physically, but in the way it trains the mind. How you endure and recover in training reflects how you handle stress.
What have been the benefits of setting up your own business? Having my creative side activated and satisfying my passion for health and fitness.
At XYZ, we're hoping to build more of a community around fitness, and a greater awareness of health. I'm much happier because of it. I still work for UBS, but having this business has balanced me. I have an incredible team responsible for the execution, but I have a lot of input. Balancing a full-time job with a business, as well as being a mother of three, is stressful but it's a happy stress.
If you could change one thing in Hong Kong, what would it be? I'd like to see a shift in focus. People in Hong Kong are focused on earning money - but that brings stress, and you can see the effects, from depression to high blood pressure. For many, their remedy is maybe shopping or a massage. This is a good way, but it's not the perfect solution. It doesn't make you stronger. I believe in getting up early and getting your sports done for the day. You are then healthy and focused.