App-ing away to an ac­tive, health­ier life

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Last year, I ac­ti­vated the fit­ness track­ing func­tion in China’s most pop­u­lar in­stant mes­sag­ing app WeChat in a bid to stay fit. By opt­ing for an ac­count that pulls mo­tion data from my smart­phone and auto-counts my steps, I was ranked against my ac­count peers based on the num­ber of steps I took ev­ery­day.

I was mo­ti­vated to in­ten­sify my ex­er­cise regime af­ter see­ing peo­ple I knew tak­ing far more steps than me, and to catch up, I be­gan us­ing a tread­mill while hold­ing my phone in hand. For some time, I rose quite high in the rank­ings — into the top 10 — and re­ceived a lot of “likes” from my WeChat friends, which en­cour­aged me to ex­er­cise even more.

The ad­van­tage of us­ing the WeChat sports func­tion is that it taps into the psy­chol­ogy of peo­ple who have the ten­dency to per­form bet­ter on a task when they com­pete with oth­ers en­gaged in the same task, par­tic­u­larly if they know each other.

The WeChat sports func­tion, launched in 2015, has be­come quite pop­u­lar — nearly 900 mil­lion peo­ple were us­ing it at the end of last year. The pop­u­lar­ity of such fit­ness mo­ti­va­tors shows that peo­ple are be­com­ing more con­scious about the qual­ity of their life and the im­por­tance of stay­ing healthy.

An­nual sur­veys by the Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion on pub­lic health aware­ness show that peo­ple have be­come more health con­scious. And that among all the “stay healthy” mes­sages, hav­ing an ac­tive life­style is the one most fol­lowed.

In Bei­jing, for ex­am­ple, peo­ple swarm to the Olympic For­est Park to jog or walk reg­u­larly. And it’s not just young peo­ple who ex­ert them­selves in this way. The el­derly, par­tic­u­larly re­tirees, can be seen in groups briskly walk­ing the same routes.

This is a good de­vel­op­ment, for thanks to rapid eco­nomic growth, Chi­nese peo­ple have adopted seden­tary and un­healthy life­styles, such as di­ets that are high in fat and sugar. As a re­sult, chronic dis­eases such as obe­sity, car­dio­vas­cu­lar prob­lems, hy­per­ten­sion and di­a­betes have be­come top killers.

Rais­ing peo­ple’s health aware­ness can ease some of the bur­den on China’s health­care sys­tem. To­day, 87 per­cent of the to­tal deaths in the coun­try are caused by chronic dis­eases. Hos­pi­tals are packed with peo­ple who need life­long in­ter­ven­tion, and cur­rently, some 80 per­cent of the med­i­cal cost is spent on chronic con­di­tions.

In re­sponse, the govern­ment has launched pub­lic health ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, and even is­sued food and nu­tri­tion guide­lines that rec­om­mend peo­ple eat less red meat and en­gage in more phys­i­cal ex­er­cises such as brisk walk­ing.

“With­out such sys­tem­atic in­ter­ven­tion, China will suf­fer an un­bear­able ex­plo­sion of chronic dis­eases,” says Mao Qun’an, the spokesman for the Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion.

My fa­ther, who is in his early 70s, loved stewed fatty pork and en­joyed it for more than half a cen­tury. But af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with hy­per­ten­sion and di­a­betes, he changed his eat­ing habit; now only fish and chicken com­prise his non-veg­e­tar­ian diet. To ease the wor­ries of his only daugh­ter who works and lives more than 1,000 kilo­me­ters away, my fa­ther took the govern­ment ad­vice to heart and cut out red meat from his diet.

Now, he too uses the WeChat sports func­tion. And since he is very dis­ci­plined, he walks 8,000 steps ev­ery day. Af­ter he learned that I was try­ing to walk 10,000 steps a day, he strived to cover a few more steps than me, which made his name ap­pear just ahead of mine in the daily rank­ings.

That, as my mother later told me, was a dis­tant hello and “I am do­ing well and miss you” from my fa­ther. I’m glad the govern­ment’s health mes­sage has hit home.

The au­thor is a re­porter with China Daily. shan­juan@chi­

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