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Tina Juan as Miss Exercise

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She looks younger than her age. With her vibrant grace and composed character, this lady speaks of a vision about a society of healthy and fit bodies.

Meeting Tina Aboitiz Juan is at the least a gratifying experience. Her gallant eyes and tender smile remind me of the candid portrait of a woman Leonardo da Vinci called Mona Lisa. But beyond her feminine look lies an active woman whose dynamism cannot be amply described on canvass. For one thing, she might not agree to pose lazily before a painter. According to her, sitting down without doing anything for many hours is not good for the body.

Tina runs the Finess Advantage gyms in Alabang, Cebu and Davao. She hosts the fitness segment of Alas Singko y Media, a morning show over ABS-CBN and writes a weekly column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Metro Magazine. According to Tina, she had no idea that she would eventually make a profession from, of all fields, fitness. As an overweight teenager belonging to the rich Aboitiz clan, all she wanted was to look slimmer. So, she tried everything she thought would achieve her goal. "I was a little bit obsessed with dieting. But at that time I was doing everything wrong," she says.

It was only at UP where she enrolled at a premed course that she learned the basic rule in fitness - moderate eating and regular exercise. In 1979, she married businessman Domingo Juan and later moved to Cebu where she met Lita Quisumbing, who used to run a gym. Being a regular at Quisumbing's gym, Tina learned what it takes to maintain a fit body. Having caught up well with the fitness lessons, she was offered to consider a career in fitness. But the political turmoil in 1986 made her hesitant. The following year, when tensions in government subsided, the people started looking for means of quality living.

Tina decided to start her own little gym at the basement of her house at Ayala, Alabang. She invited a few of her neighbors during her aerobics sessions. The number of participants quickly grew and what began, as a hobby became Tina's lasting profession. "By 1990, I said to myself I better get professional here (fitness). I already have a responsibility to these people," she says.

In the same year, she attended a training seminar in San Diego, California and was certified for private group training by the American Council on Exercise. In 1992, she was certified as a group fitness instructor by the same body. She was also certified as an exercise leader in 1994 and as a lifestyle management consultant in 1997 by the American College of Sports Medicine. Back home, she co-founded the Association of Fitness Professionals of the Philippines, along with Madonna Paras of Angeles City and Cynthia Norton of Manila. The group seeks to spread the level of fitness awareness in the country by holding exercise seminars in the provinces.

Tina says that while there is a growing awareness on fitness in the country, particularly with the endorsement in the media of different fitness gadgets, such awareness does not translate to active participation. She estimates that the percentage of the Filipino population who are into fitness programs is much lower than the United States' 10 percent.

"It bothers me to know that while there is a growing awareness on fitness, there is not much participation from the people. The gyms in the country attract only a small percentage of the population," she says. To address this, Tina has set her sight beyond the walls of the gym. She uses the media to teach the people how to keep fit by doing basic but efficient exercises at home and at the office.

She also rejects the idea that one joins a fitness program to look sexy. "Sexiness has no correlation to fitness," she says. "Sexiness is subjective. It is a state of mind, unlike health which can be measured." Tina defines a healthy body as one that has a normal blood pressure, blood sugar, heartbeat, strong bones, strong muscles, strong heart, and normal body fat. An excess of body fat, she says, leads to obesity, which she describes as a curse of western living. "It (obesity) is coming here, brought by the fast food chains."

According to her, one must strive to achieve not only a healthy but also a fit body. "A healthy body is just enough for everyday life but a fit body is one that can do even more. A fit body has the additional energy and stamina for sports and recreational activities beyond everyday life," she says.

Keeping a fit body is easy, says Tina. "There is always a good place for people to start," she explains. "The most basic of all exercises is walking. For the heart, one only needs to spend 30 minutes walking everyday. It is easy, and convenient and almost anybody can walk."

Other advanced exercises include aerobics, weight lifting, kickboxing and the now popular pilatis. But Tina says any type of exercise would not get its maximum effect unless one observes a good diet. "The base of a good diet should be the fruits and vegetables, then the grains and beans, then the animal proteins and dairies, and at the least priority the fast food.

Tina says she would be glad to see the Philippines as a community of healthy and fit Filipinos one day. And to this she commits her profession. "I guess God has led me down the path of teaching fitness. My mission is to teach people that fitness should be an integral part of their lifestyle because we only have one body and all our dream, aspirations, and hopes can only be achieved by using our body. The only way to do that and still enjoy life with your family and friends is be healthy and fit," she says.

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