Friday, July 29, 2016

Philippines - Getting macho in Manila

MANILA -- As the Philippines continues to enjoy unprecedented economic growth, more and more Manilans are finding the time and money to spend on health and fitness.

With the expansion of the country's middle-class, and their new found dedication to cultivating the perfect body, the number of sports and fitness centers is rapidly increasing.

As a growing number of foreign companies set up shop in the capital, sports gyms have popped up all over the city's business and commercial districts.

U.S.-based Gold's Gym, particularly popular among bodybuilders, was operating 21 locations across the Philippines as of the end of 2015. It plans to add another 10 outlets this year. Membership comes at a price of about 2,300 pesos (about $50) a month -- not a negligible cost, but locals seem more than happy to stump up the cash. According to Mylene Dayrit, CEO of Gold's Gym Philippines, locals are increasingly turning to social media for training tips and advice.

Increased health awareness among staff also has a potential knock-on benefit for companies, with reduced long-term medical costs for employers. Keen not to miss out on the opportunity, Gold's Gym has teamed up with leading local businesses, such as conglomerate Ayala group. The Philippine unit now earns roughly a third of its total revenues from corporate contracts.

U.K.-based Fitness First also has a presence in the country.

Much helped by English having official-language status, the Philippines has become a global hub for business process outsourcing, which has provided well-paid employment for many young people who now find themselves with increased disposable income.

A 27-year-old in the capital says she has been going to the gym twice a week for two years. "I like to take yoga classes," she said, "it's good for balancing hormones and reducing stress."

According to an estimate by British market research company Euromonitor International, the middle-class segment in the Philippines will expand to 74 million by 2020, accounting for 70% of the population. In 2011, the number stood at 54 million.

It is not only gyms that are benefiting from growth in the health and fitness industry. Many people have taken up other hobbies like running and cycling, and are signing up in droves for local competitions. Shopping malls have corners dedicated to a wide variety of health supplements, and it appears health consciousness may be more than just a passing trend.

Increasing emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle has been witnessed in several emerging economies in Asia. What sets the Philippines apart, however, is an apparent emphasis on building powerful, muscular bodies as opposed to developing a lean look. The tendency could be linked to the country's cultural ties with the U.S., which effectively controlled the country for decades till right after the end of World War II. Popular culture in the Philippines has a distinct American influence, visible in music, TV, films, and in many ways, people's appearance.

A perhaps little known fact is that bodybuilding has become a popular sport in the Philippines and the country boasts a number of international competition winners. World-renowned champion Reynold Domalsin says Filipino bodybuilders are often invited to work as private trainers for millionaires overseas, like he himself did previously in the Middle East.

The country's tough-talking new president, Rodrigo Duterte, won voters over during the campaign with his less-than-subtle language. Could his success be a reflection of the country's new found desire to look macho?

Minoru Satake

You can find older posts regarding ASEAN politics and economics news at SBC blog, and older posts regarding health and healthcare at IIMS blog. I thank you.

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