GET­TING RICHER, GET­TING FIT­TER

The num­ber of cus­tomers hit­ting the nation’s gyms and fit­ness cen­ters is grow­ing as peo­ple try to gain the per­fect body. re­ports for China Fea­tures at Xin­hua.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

Two years ago, Han Chun­jing was an am­a­teur chef, parad­ing her at­tempts at China’s world-renowned cui­sine on so­cial me­dia. To­day, the 45-year-old is one of a grow­ing num­ber of fit­ness en­thu­si­asts post­ing gym self­ies to show off their im­pres­sive physiques.

Since Septem­ber 2014, Han — founder of an NGO in the north­ern port city of Tian­jin — has worked out for four to six hours a week, fo­cus­ing on train­ing programs in­clud­ing CrossFit and car­dio ses­sions. She has lost 10 kg, firmed her abs and, more im­por­tantly for her, “re­gained a young woman’s shape and con­fi­dence”.

Han is one of the mil­lions of Chi­nese who have taken up the West­ern habit of boost­ing their six packs and well-honed mus­cles via anaer­o­bic or aer­o­bic ex­er­cises.

Photos of run­ning tracks, steps and amaz­ing hand­stands are sweep­ing so­cial me­dia plat­forms, such as the mi­cro blog Weibo and the in­stant-mes­sag­ing ser­vice WeChat. Now, reg­is­ter­ing for some marathons is harder than buy­ing a train ticket dur­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val ex­o­dus. Web users never tire of dis­cussing body-fat per­cent­ages and diet plans, while celebri­ties’ posts of their gym pic­tures never fail to at­tract hits and fans.

Han says her pas­sion came from a per­sonal awak­en­ing — “Keeping fit means a bet­ter life” — and fit­ness classes, books and sportswear have cost her more than 30,000 yuan ($4,355) over two years. “It’s not a small amount, but it’s bet­ter than spend­ing it on hos­pi­tal bills, isn’t it?” she said.

In the 1980s, when Han was young, most peo­ple had no aware­ness of phys­i­cal fit­ness, pre­fer­ring in­stead to be­lieve the tra­di­tional say­ing: “Health de­pends on food rather than feet.”

Fur­ther­more, in­som­nia and obe­sity rates ex­ceed those in de­vel­oped coun­tries, and they con­tinue to rise among younger peo­ple. “We need to be clear that, al­though China is get­ting rich, its peo­ple’s health should not be poor,” Lin said. “China should avoid be­ing the sick man of Asia.”

Liu Qing, deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Chi­nese As­so­ci­a­tion of Sport In­dus­try, said pub­lic aware­ness of fit­ness be­gins when a nation’s an­nual per capita GDP hits $5,000. If it sur­passes $8,000, the fit­ness in­dus­try be­comes a pil­lar of the na­tional econ­omy.

China’s per capita GDP ex­ceeded $5,000 in 2011, and reached $8,016 last year, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data.

In 1995, the gov­ern­ment is­sued the Out­line of the Na­tion­wide Phys­i­cal Fit­ness Pro­gram, pledg­ing that sports and health-build­ing ser­vices would be aligned with na­tional eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

In 2014, the gov­ern­ment up­dated the fit­ness pro­gram into a na­tional strategy. In June, it re­leased the Na­tional Fit­ness Pro­gram for 20162020, pre­dict­ing that 435 mil­lion peo­ple will reg­u­larly play sports by 2020, and to­tal sports-re­lated con­sump­tion will reach 1.5 tril­lion yuan.

Sports will be­come the new en­gine to boost do­mes­tic spend­ing in a slow­ing econ­omy, said Liu Peng, min­is­ter at the Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Sport.

The fit­ness fad co­in­cides with the growth of the mo­bile in­ter­net and a boom in en­trepreneur­ship. Xiong Mingjun started a yoga app in Sep- tem­ber last year, de­spite never hav­ing prac­ticed him­self. “I know it is in great de­mand,” he said.

Xiong’s con­fi­dence grew with the news that Premier Li Ke­qiang and his In­dian coun­ter­part Naren­dra Modi at­tended a cul­tural ac­tiv­ity fea­tur­ing tai chi and yoga in Bei­jing last year. He has de­vised a slo­gan — “Yoga changes lives” — to re­flect his be­lief that yoga’s phys­i­cal and men­tal prac­tices can sat­isfy the needs of mid­dle-class peo­ple who want to for­get about work, re­lax and slow down.

Since it was launched, Xiong’s app has gained 2 mil­lion fol­low­ers, mainly from Bei­jing and Shang­hai, who can try yoga any­time, any­where through free videos on their smart­phones.

In the past two years, an es­ti­mat- ed 1,700 sports and fit­ness apps have come on­line in China, most of them star­tups aimed at be­gin­ners.

Al­though China is get­ting rich, its peo­ple’s health should not be poor. China should avoid be­ing the sick man of Asia.” Lin Xian­peng, vice-di­rec­tor of the Man­age­ment Col­lege of Bei­jing Sport Univer­sity Yuan Quan

Lin Shuo, 28, from Shan­tou, Guang­dong Prov­ince, has be­come fa­mous on­line by rid­ing the fit­ness wave. The pro­fes­sional ath­lete­turned-fit­ness guru started blog­ging on Weibo and WeChat in 2014, shar­ing his ex­per­tise and gym ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I never ex­pected that my blogs would be­come an in­stant success,” said Lin, who has 640,000 fol­low­ers and re­signed his post at a pri­vate com­pany to launch a WeChat ac­count called Body Phi­los­o­phy. “Ar­ti­cles about how to chisel away body fat through ex­er­cise al­ways re­ceive thou­sands of hits.”

How­ever, some ex­perts are urg­ing cau­tion when fol­low­ing on­line work­outs. “Videos and photos can show you how to move, but they can­not tell how to breathe or how stren­u­ous your ex­er­cise should be,” said Shao Xiaofeng, a se­nior fit­ness in­struc­tor at a gym in Bei­jing. “Ev­ery­body is dif­fer­ent, so fit­ness needs face-to-face in­struc­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to Shao, ex­er­cise can be a so­cial ac­tiv­ity for white-col­lar work­ers who live alone in big cities. “Some peo­ple find ro­man­tic or business part­ners. They can’t do that look­ing at their mo­bile phone at home.”

Three years ago, he led 24 gym classes a month, but now the num­ber is 50. His in­come has dou­bled, but he has to com­pete against cheaper, un­qual­i­fied ser­vices.

To re­main com­pet­i­tive, Shao at­tends fit­ness con­fer­ences, strives for higher ac­cred­i­ta­tion, and stud­ies medicine, nu­tri­tion anatomy and psy­chol­ogy. He con­sid­ered set­ting up his own gym in Bei­jing, but was dis­suaded by the high rents: “Gyms in big cities are usu­ally set up un­der­ground be­cause of the low rents.”

Most Chi­nese gyms of­fer longterm mem­ber­ship, usu­ally for six months or a year, but the fees can run to thou­sands of yuan — far be­yond the means of many peo­ple.

How­ever, Shao re­mains optimistic. “It is a bud­ding in­dus­try. The com­pe­ti­tion will be­come more pro­fes­sional, and con­sumers more sen­si­ble,” he said.

Af­ter all, as a pop­u­lar Chi­nese say­ing has it: “Break­ing a sweat de­serves a feast.”

PHOTO BY ZHANG CHENLIN/XIN­HUA

More than 150 yoga lovers prac­tice on a 32.8-meter-long glass sight­see­ing plat­form in Shilinxia, Pinggu district, Bei­jing.

Right:

Left:

A cus­tomer buys a post-work­out meal at a restau­rant in a gym in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince, which only pro­vides low-fat dishes. Mid­dle: Yoga en­thu­si­asts prac­tice in an an­cient court­yard in Yuzhou City, Cen­tral China’s He­nan Prov­ince, A woman works out un­der the guid­ance of a fit­ness coach in Shen­zhen.

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