Joey Bonifacio is a firm believer that the priority of health begins in the non-material. Looking at the energy and gusto he performs his daily activities with, you would never guess that this 66-year-old is a grandfather of five. From seemingly small decisions like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or choosing to stand rather than sit, his life is a testament to how “small changes can make a world of difference”.
What does health mean to you?
Health is a multi-faceted reality, particularly now that I have aged. I am now 66 and a lot closer to 70. More and more, I have found that there is an aspect of health that is spiritual and not just physical. By that I don’t mean “being religious” but instead, focusing on that which is non-material.
Often, we look at the physical (material) aspects of health and put little to no emphasis on the non-material or spiritual aspects of it. These days, I tend to approach health from a spiritual or non-material aspect first. By that, I mean my attitude, motivation, peace of mind, and even things like whether I feel hopeful on the day.
I have found when these things are healthy, the other aspects of the physical just follow naturally.
What is your weekly fitness regime?
More than a weekly regime, I have developed a health regime that works for me every day, everywhere, and every time (3Es).
It is broken into four areas. The first is sleep, the second is nutrition, the third is mobility, and the last is stress management. More than a regime that works on 3Es, it is vital that they work, in an order and cycle as well.
Let me explain. If I don’t sleep well, it affects my eating, mobility, and capacity to manage stress. Given that, I make it a point to avoid being sleep deprived. On days that I have no choice but to stay up late, I make sure I catch up on days when I can to fill that sleep gap I’ve been deprived of.
As for nutrition, I simply make sure to eat good quality whole foods that are less processed. I also watch the quality of the essential proteins, carbohydrates and fats as well as their quantity.
For mobility, I try my best to walk instead of ride when the time and distance allows me to do so. When choosing between taking the stairs or an escalator (or elevator), I will often choose the former.
When I sit and stand, I avoid using my arms and hands to do so. Effectively, these little practices are like doing squats and lunges multiple times a day without going to the gym. Think of the number of times you walk, sit, and stand daily.
Whenever I can, I choose to stand on my bus or MRT commutes. The movements of the vehicles keep me nimble on my feet. It’s like being in the gym with a trainer every day, everywhere, every time.
In terms of stress, I make a conscious effort to disengage from day-to-day issues that I have no way of resolving. For instance, while I am concerned with various global circumstances, I know that I can’t do much in the way of helping directly (aside from praying).
I concern myself more with the issues in front of me that I can address and resolve. There is enough stress generated by these, but to be stressed over things I can’t fix is a waste of time and energy. Instead, by focusing on the things I can fix and that are within reach, I usually end my days with a positive outlook when I see these issues resolved.
Stress is not always a bad thing and is a necessary part of our lives. If we don’t, however, find a way to disengage from it, it will inevitably affect our sleep, and organs over the long haul. This is due to how our bodies generate hormones that are initially good for us in the short term but eventually result in negative results when generated over long periods.
Joey in Cape Town, South Africa
Why is physical health a priority to you?
There are several very practical reasons. The most obvious one is that I only have one body and it does not come with spare parts. That means I must take care of my physical body well.
The second is I am in awe and stand in wonder at the design of my body. I don’t think there is anything in all of creation that rivals its value.
Take, for instance, its design.
Our bodies have a thing called homeostasis, or the ability to adjust its functions including its temperature depending on where it finds itself or the circumstances going on inside or outside our body.
Then think about the heart, the most amazing pump in existence that moves over 7,000 liters of fluid day in and day out. It even generates its own electricity! Its astounding that the average human heart can last 70-100 years when you consider how the best high-performing pumps often last 30-40 years, even with proper maintenance.
And that’s just the beginning. There’s so much more, when you consider our brains and other vital organs.
Bottom line is, if I can maximize the lifespan of my physical body, then I can maximize its usefulness. This affects me relationally, financially, and even spiritually which flow in a continuous cycle that generates more health.
What has improved health enabled you to do that you weren’t able to do before?
It has allowed me to enjoy the most valuable things in life, mostly the non-material. For one, I find myself better relationally when I am healthy.
Freedom is another non-material word of high value. When I am healthy, I have more freedom to enjoy the various things life has to offer me.
Back in the day when my energy was low or I had certain fears and pains, I was often not a “happy camper” and would lose out on one of the most valuable things we have in life - relationships. Now that I am a grandfather of 5, I can enjoy traveling and take part in more meaningful activities with my loved ones.
This even applies to work. I have become more productive, efficient, effective and even excellent at work because my health works.
Do you feel younger and healthier now than you did five years ago?
I think so much of health starts in the spiritual or non-material aspects of life. These are often neglected because we have become very focused on the material (not to say that these are not important, but just less important).
For example, people don’t realize that someone who has money (material) but has no hope, has less advantages. If they lose the money, they have lost everything. On the other hand, an individual who has high hopes may not have money but will most likely be able to generate more money than the person who does not have hope.
… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Can you imagine a week without peace, a month without love, a year without trust? Just imagine how that affects your health.
I have found that by cultivating the spiritual (non-material) aspects of my life, the healthier I get.
Joey and his wife of 41 years, Marie
What advice would you give others who are looking to start integrating fitness into their lifestyle but feel “too old” to start?
I go by the mantra that most of life is counterintuitive.
As a Christian, I have found this to be true about faith (another very important, non-material word). The same principle applies to our physical health as well. My faith has taught me, “to live is to die,” “the first is last,” “to give is to receive“ and “the greatest is the least.” Most of my decisions flow from that same mindset.
First “Slow is fast.” I avoid making hasty decisions. Even when I exercise, I now prefer walking to running. It allows me to exercise and also enjoy a time of prayer while taking in the things going on around me. This wouldn’t be possible if I was in a rush. Additionally, if my wife or a friend joins me for the walk, I am able to enjoy a time of meaningful fellowship.
Second, “Less is more.” I have found that there are very few things I must address (sleep, nutrition, mobility and stress management) and they all work together. For example, when I walk, I strengthen my legs which tend to be the first thing that goes as we age. This one act of walking moves my heart to actively pump which in turn causes my brain to function better. I have found that little actions like these have big effects over time and tend to compound. Often, the key is not doing more, but doing less consistently.
Third, “Small is big.” Don’t try to make big changes but start with small ones that you can be consistent with. I recall when I first wanted to exercise. I tried to do too much which resulted in an injury. That didn’t just discourage me but also delayed my ability to develop a good habit. I later learned that by simply starting to walk, I would be able to cultivate a habit that grew over time. These slow, seemingly less and small initiatives, often add up and compound over time.
My last piece of advice is to start sooner than later. Just like everything in nature, things grow and compound little by little over time. Often, when we look back, we think about how the best time for us to have started is 10 years ago. At the same time, that’s something we can’t change. If we didn’t have the foresight to do that then, then the next best time is now.
And if you are now feeling inspired by Joey, do consider taking that first small step with ActiveSG. With many options available from programmes to facilities such as gyms, stadiums and swimming pools, there is something for every level of physical fitness.
(Photos courtesy of Joey Bonafacio)