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