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When it comes to health and fitness, pumping irons and participating in triathlon competitions may be the ideal impression of staying fit. But for Mike Ling, a fitness aficionado and entrepreneur, being fit and healthy does not only encapsulate physical conditions, but also encompasses mental strength, nutrition intake and happiness.
Born and raised in China with a background in medical school, Ling was set to become a surgeon until he made a U-turn to venture abroad, with the U.S. as the ultimate destination — both because he was not in favor of the Chinese hospital system and he wanted to see the world.
Initially started out doing biomedical research, Ling decided to switch to business, intrigued by its intricacies. After obtaining an MBA from Indiana University, Ling’s started out at Deloitte Consulting, where his five-year stint involved helping multiple global healthcare clients formulate and execute strategies for emerging markets expansion, among other responsibilities.
Although Ling liked his job at Deloitte, his relentless passion to become an entrepreneur never faded away. This aspiration served as a catalyst for his next move: returning to China to jumpstart his own business through combining fitness and technology together. FitTime, an online fitness company, is the result of his passion and entrepreneurship, with more than 20 million active users between mobile phones and smart TVs.
“Initially, I tried to get fit because I studied medicine,” Ling sayts. “However, we learned how to treat the sick, but we didn’t really learn how to stay healthy. In the U.S., I was influenced by the fitness culture, so I started weight training, and I really loved that and wanted to share those benefits with the world.”
Redefining the Philosophy of Health
The pursuit of happiness has blossomed for Ling as he turns his dream into a reality. But as he grows older and wiser, a series of physical and mental setbacks have changed his understanding of health. Rather than simply focusing on being disease-free, his work has shifted to developing the capability to recover from diseases or injuries. Diet plays an essential part in this process, with a great deal of emphasis on food consumption, which Ling sees as crucial for well-being, as there is no magic pill that heals all sickness.
“My views have changed,” he explains. “You have to take care of your body every day, and one of the most important things you can do is pay attention to the foods you eat. I have been on a vegetarian diet for about 10 months now. I feel good, but it’s for a different reason — not necessarily for gaining muscle or losing fat.”
Ling concedes that there is no clear-cut answer to good health, otherwise everyone would catch the train of becoming vegetarians. But having said that, a vegetarian diet provides at least two good reasons: Plants produce a lot of magical biochemicals that benefit the human body, and more intake of plant-based diet will discourage intake on animal proteins, which are linked with higher incidences of getting cancer.
“I’m 43 years old,” says Ling. “I’m at a higher risk of developing cancer and a lot of chronic diseases, heart disease, diabetes and mental diseases, which are connected to the food you eat. So my view on food has had a significant change.”
Nowadays, Ling focuses his reading on a wide range spectrum of plant-based diet books written by doctors, as opposed to titles authored by bodybuilders and so-called fitness gurus. And he’s also incorporated meditation as a means to live more consciously. However, his interpretation of mediation is not tied to the common holistic view where one has to sit down and close their eyes in a serene, quiet space with soothing music playing in the background.
Being in the Present
“My number one principle is do not multitask,” Ling says, underlining his meditative approach. “I only do one thing at a time and try my best to do that. I don’t open my phone until I’m done with my Jiu-Jitsu practice. When I eat, I put my phone away, I don’t listen to music, I don’t look at the screen, I don’t look at the TV, I don’t read books. I want to savor the food, look at the food, feel the food entering my mouth, feel the feeling of my teeth chewing the food, feel the food going down my esophagus, and pay attention to how my body feels about the food. I think that’s the number-one thing that helps me to be present.”
Ling prefers Jiu-Jitsu does not only for its physical attributes, but also its philosophical underpinnings. “The number one thing in fighting using the brain,” he says. The second thing is playing chess using your body weight. So basically, a lot of the time it does not rely on strength. It relies on the mechanics; it’s about creating an imbalance, an unfair advantage. I like it because it forces me to move in different ways.”
He’s since incorporated these ideals into his entrepreneurship. He attributes FitTime’s employee-attention record to that passion for health and fitness, which is a prerequisite for joining the company. Ling even sets up a gym inside the company’s Shanghai office, with a corner for practicing Jiu-Jitsu, as a studio space for video production and to nurture new ideas about creating new content.
The 4 Pillars of Fitness in Life
Ultimately, Ling believes that six-pack abs simply don’t translate into being healthy without the four core pillars of fitness and life: health, finances, professional skills and relationships. “I often have to view it as a stool with four legs,” he adds. “Missing one leg, the stool will stand, but if missing two, it likely will fall apart.”
The pursuit of happiness and success in life is a million-dollar question. There is no definite answer, and each answer itself can be tricky and subjective. For Ling, “Success is about waking up in a good mood.” The phrase strikes him deeply, because he likens it to “your internal definition,” not some kind of external idea that people can force upon others.
As he sums up, “Ultimately, it boils down to this: Whether it’s Jack Ma or Jeff Bezos, do you wake up in a good mood? If you do, I think you’re pretty successful.”