Christy Chung and Aaron Kwok in their 50s: The truth about celeb diets and workouts
We see celebrities of a certain vintage flaunting their bods on social media – but can we really look as good as them? Are there red flags when it comes to their workouts or diets? We asked health experts.
Each time you see a flawless picture of a celebrity, it's almost always enhanced by make-up, good lighting, Photoshop – and maybe even a bit of nip-and-tuck to keep those bulges in.
But lately, stars have been posting sweatfies on social media to humblebrag that their OMG figures are really the results of their hard work in the gym.
And get this: A good number of them are in their 50s. That's right, some of those actors you idolised in your teens are semi-centennials and a number are still head-turners.
Take Hong Kong actress Carman Lee, for instance. She's 54 and her impressive midriff on social media meant that fans would never look at the ethereal Little Dragon Maiden of The Return Of The Condor Heroes the same way again.
And then there’s Aaron Kwok – 55, a father of two, and from the looks of it, still a Heavenly King.
Meanwhile, Canada-born actress and 90s bombshell Christy Chung is 50 and a mother of three – who recently performed on a Chinese reality show in skin-tight, see-through outfits that still raised the temperature for her male fans.
So how do these stars dodge the dreaded middle-age spread, you ask? Surely there must be an army of personal trainers, dietitians and chefs at their disposal – or they have, at the very least, inherited some very good genes?
We put the questions to some experts to find out if you can also look this good when you hit the big 5-0.
IS IT A CASE OF GOOD GENES OR HARD WORK?
You’ll know you have good genes if it’s easy for you to maintain a healthy body weight as well as lose the extra kilos through exercise and diet control, said Dr Abel Soh, an endocrinologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital’s Abel Soh Diabetes, Thyroid and Endocrine Clinic. If you experience the opposite, it’s likely that you have bad genes for body weight.
But your weight isn’t fixed at birth as genes don't completely affect your body weight – it’s from 25 per cent to 80 per cent, said Dr Soh. And as these celebrities have proven, hard work and discipline go a long way, too, regardless of genetic dispositions.
Dr Kwan Yew Seng, a family physician and senior consultant with Pioneer Polyclinic, which is part of National University Polyclinics, agreed that genes do play certain roles, such as muscle size and your ability to grow them, both of which affect metabolism.
But they don’t call all the shots.
“Muscle cells require more energy to maintain than fat cells, so people with more muscle than fat tend to have a faster metabolism,” he said.
“But there is a limit as to how much lean muscle mass can be built. Expending extra calories through increased physical activity is the most sensible way to increase metabolism.”
THESE CELEBRITIES ARE INSPIRING BUT CAN I STILL TURN THINGS AROUND IN MY 40S?
The bad news: It will be an uphill task to lose weight in your 40s as they are the years when your metabolism slows down, and weight loss just gets harder and harder, said Dr Soh.
“There is no explainable reason for this age-related drop in metabolic rate thus far,” he said, although it could be accelerated by a reduced muscle mass from Netflixing too much.
As if that’s not bad enough, ageing also lessens your body’s production of certain hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone, which are needed to maintain your metabolic rate, said Dr Soh.
Then why bother to exercise and eat healthier if your weight won’t budge that easily?
You’ll be helping yourself to lower your risks of preventable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several cancers, said Dr Kwan.
“It also helps prevent hypertension and can improve mental health, quality of life and well-being.”
The good news: You can still turn things around, even after years of poor lifestyle choices.
“One can still make the change, even if in the 40s,” said Dr Soh. “The length of time it takes will vary for different individuals, depending on the body weight, motivation, determination to change, and whether the new lifestyle changes can be maintained.”
More good news: Once you’ve shed those extra kilos, the effort to keep them off may be no different from a 20-something K-pop artiste’s, according to Dr Kwan.
That means accumulating 150 to 250 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, while not exceeding caloric intake requirements, he said.
However, “some may need to accumulate more than 250 minutes of aerobic activity per week” to keep the weight off, he clarified.
WILL CELEBRITIES' WORKOUTS WORK FOR ME?
How realistic is it for you to expect the results you see on celebrities after following their workouts? For example, Lee used her two-week quarantine in China to develop abs, according to South China Morning Post.
The actress claimed that the abdominal definitions only came about during her quarantine when she exercised for two hours every day in the hotel, despite already regularly working out in the gym for more than 20 years.
Her six-pack-building routine? Using weights to work on her abdominal muscles, buttocks, upper arms, back, chest and shoulders, and followed by sit-ups.
You would get her abs if you follow her routine, have been exercising for as long as she has – and are already lean to begin with, said Joan Liew, a trainer and co-founder of Fitness Factory.
The caveat: You have to be disciplined enough to stick to Lee’s two-hour workout daily and eat cleanly (her being in quarantine likely means no parties, no social alcohol consumption and no dining out).
Meanwhile, Kwok wakes up at 4am every morning to jog – even when he has a packed schedule. He also swims regularly. And from the looks of his Instagram post, he even hits the gym when he's away.
To achieve the Heavenly King's physique, Liew said he would also have included regular weight training that focuses on his upper torso such as the chest, back, shoulders and arms.
"He would also have done a fair bit of abdominal exercises," she said.
Furthermore, the flamboyant Canto-pop star keeps a very close watch on his weight of 63kg.
If he so much as gains 1kg, he'd immediately exercise more and eat less – even throwing away his chopsticks to control his food intake, which he has allegedly done at a mala hotpot dinner.
Not many people can commit to a wake-up call of 4am. “The best time to exercise is the time you can commit to,” said Liew.
“If you are likely to get last-minute meetings after work hours, work out in the mornings before work. If your day has a quiet period in the afternoon, schedule your exercises then.
Plan a time that works for your personal schedule, so that you can commit to it on a regular basis.”
Should you be as regimental in reining in your weight, too? Liew wouldn't lose sleep over 1kg of weight gain overnight because it is largely caused by over-eating.
As for rectifying the gain, eat a low-fat and low-sugar diet with moderate meal portions (no second helpings) over the next few days, she said.
As for Chung, her workout includes push-ups, jumping jacks, heel touches, squats, ab twists and other movements. She also dances, skies and does yoga and tai chi.
“Last year, I ran every day, sometimes running twice a day, the first time in the morning for 45 minutes on an empty stomach and the second time after dinner for 45 minutes," she said on South China Morning Post.
Cardiovascular exercises such as running can definitely up your caloric burn. What about activities such as dancing, yoga and tai chi?
“They are particularly good for keeping our bodies agile, getting our motor skills conditioned and keeping our bodies moving," said Liew. If you've also lowered your calorie intake, they can help you to lose weight, she said.
However, Liew recommended those above 40 to also establish a weight-training routine to build and maintain muscle mass against age-related muscle loss.
But whatever exercise you do, Liew doesn’t advocate doing it on an empty stomach like Chung did, especially if you’re diabetic.
“Our bodies rely on glucose, especially for weight training, and without any food, our bodies will deplete of glucose which can lead to hypoglycemia.”
“I’d suggest something light prior to working out in the morning, such as a glass of milk or a banana. After exercise, have a healthy breakfast that has good complex carbs and high-quality protein.”
ARE CELEBRITY WORKOUT DIETS WORTH FOLLOWING?
As far as celebrities' workout diets are concerned, they can go either way: Limiting certain foods like Chung, or "I just eat whatever I want" the way Lee rolls.
Since Chung's diet has the most details in the media for a dietary assessment, we've decided to use it as an example (no hate here).
For starters, Chung does intermittent fasting and limits her food intake to eight hours a day to improve her digestion.
The actress is also careful with her sugar intake, cutting out white sugar and preferring "low-sugar fruit like blueberries, strawberries and grapefruit to the sugar-laden ones like mangoes, watermelons, pineapples and peaches".
She eats a mostly vegetarian diet with very little starch, and makes up for the lack of meat with protein powder.
Chung appears to meet her daily requirements for fruits and vegetables, said Jaclyn Reutens, a dietitian and founder of Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultants.
It is also commendable that she has reduced her red meat intake, which lowers her risks of some cancers and high blood cholesterol levels, she said.
However, Reutens isn't sure how practical it is to stick to eating eight hours a day for good. It is also not true that keeping your eating to that duration is better for digestion.
“What’s more important is the total volume of food consumed in a day. It’s the amount and quality of calories that’s important, not the timing,” she said.
And while it’s a good move to omit white sugar from her diet, Reutens isn’t so sure about the actress’s decision to only eat “low-sugar fruit” such as blueberries, strawberries and grapefruit – and eschew mangoes, watermelons, pineapples and peaches, which are “wonderful sources of powerful antioxidants, vitamins and minerals”, said Reutens.
Moreover, all fruits contain fruit sugar known as fructose, she added. “Chung’s probably concerned about the glycaemic index of the fruit but as long as she keeps to one serving each time, she need not be unduly worried.”
As for the actress's decision to replace meat with more protein powder, Reutens highlighted that plant protein from tofu, soy milks, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils are better absorbed by the body than protein powders.
"The danger with protein powders is that your kidneys can only absorb a certain amount at a time. As a guide, do not ingest more than 25g protein after a workout."
Instead of just protein powder, a smoothie made with yoghurt and fruits is more satisfying for the mostly vegetarian Chung (try an egg or chicken sandwich if you eat meat) and can also replenish protein as well as carbohydrates, potassium and sodium after a workout, she suggested.