A husband and wife team combine love and fitness to open their own gym

For most couples, living and working together is a bridge too far – blurring the boundaries between work and play, and bringing office stress home is something to be avoided at all costs. But for Sylvie and Joao, who have been working together since they met at college, it is the most natural thing in the world. And not only do they work together, they have just set up a business together in a foreign country. Or at least semi-foreign. Sylvie’s parents are Vietnamese but she grew up in Canada, while Joao, who has Portuguese relatives, also grew up in Canada.

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Like so many expats living here, after visiting Vietnam on holiday, they fell in love with the place, and were struck by how many opportunities there were for development and growth. With their backgrounds in health and fitness, they were shocked by how far behind Vietnam was both in terms of their attitude to health and fitness and the expertise available in the country. So after a short stint working at a gym (together, obviously), they decided to bite the bullet and venture out on their own to open up Body by Jovie. They wanted to create a boutique gym with a focus on personal training, which would allow them to deliver customized service, and in doing so, help people reach their health goals more quickly.

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Seven months in, and the business is doing well, although it has not been without its hurdles. Getting state-of-the-art gym equipment into the country from far-flung corners of the world proved a logistical nightmare, and client retention in a naturally transient expat environment is tricky. But it has been the clash of cultural attitudes that has been most interesting.

Battling Health Myths
In Vietnam, health myths abound and advice about which foods do what to your body are steeped in cultural tradition. There are theories about whether sweat is a sign of health or a sign of sickness, archaic myths about how to lose weight and what constitutes being ‘healthy.’ In the absence of a coherent public health policy and health education here, it is inherited advice and cultural practice that people live by, oftentimes wrongly. Knowledge about food groups and the dangers of too much salt and sugar is not a given, which explains the rising obesity in kids and the growing number of adults afflicted with diabetes.

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For Sylvie and Joao, it’s a challenge. They are not only working in an environment where the primary social activity is to eat and drink, but they are battling centuries-old cultural myths about how to look after our bodies. But they are undeterred. In fact they relish the challenge and even see it as their duty. Vietnam’s health and fitness industry is completely unregulated – personal trainers do not need qualifications or need to be experts on nutrition, which further fuels the problems and can lead to serious injury. Therefore the couple is able to offer knowledgeable, professional advice to their clients that they hope will make a difference in their lives.

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Alongside the gym, which includes unique equipment such as Kettleballs, ViPR and TRX suspension training, they have a varied roster of classes to make working out fun, including kids’classes that are increasingly popular. But the main draw is the couple’s combined personal training partnership. Joao is an ex-bodybuilder, so if it’s strength training you’re after, he’s your guy. But for those wanting a cardio trainer, Sylvie has got it covered. Both Joao and Sylvie are always at the gym to motivate and speak to clients about creating a specialized diet and health plan that will suit their individual needs. Together, with their Western expertise and local knowledge, they offer a package few can beat. It makes a refreshing change to have such a personalized service at a place where so many of us have come to dread on a Monday morning.

Body by Jovie is located in Block B, Riverside Residence, Nguyen Luong Bang, D7; or visit www.bodybyjovie.com for more info

Images by Loc Nguyen