A quiet re­tire­ment in the woods, for­est ther­apy takes off for se­niors

China Daily - - BUSINESS - By ZHENG YIRAN zhengyi­[email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

Wang Juan, 65, used to prac­tice tai chi in her court­yard as a way of ex­er­cise. Now, she has found a bet­ter place — the for­est.

Ex­er­cise in the for­est, or for­est ther­apy, has be­come a new fash­ion among older peo­ple, and ac­cord­ing to one in­dus­try ex­pert, it has the po­ten­tial to grow into a new in­dus­try worth more than 1 tril­lion yuan ($146 bil­lion), bring­ing tens of mil­lions of job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“For­est ther­apy in­te­grates many in­dus­tries in­clud­ing el­derly care, tourism, cul­ture, sports, ex­pe­ri­ence and en­ter­tain­ment. It will con­sti­tute a large, highly dense and in­ter­twined mod­ern in­dus­trial clus­ter, cul­ti­vat­ing an in­dus­try worth a tril­lion yuan, or even larger,” said Liu Tuo, head of the De­part­ment of Ru­ral Forestry Re­form and De­vel­op­ment of the Na­tional Forestry and Grass­land Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Liu, the sec­tor’s huge growth po­ten­tial comes from the coun­try’s chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics.

“China has nu­mer­ous pa­tients suf­fer­ing from chronic dis­eases and men­tal ill­ness, and is be­com­ing an ag­ing so­ci­ety. In ad­di­tion, the pub­lic have more spare time and in­creased salaries,” he said, adding that “this is a great trans­for­ma­tion op­por­tu­nity for China.”

Ac­cord­ing to data from the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, by 2020, the tourism in­dus­try will ac­count for 11 per­cent of global GDP, while the health­care in­dus­try will be worth 12 per­cent.

As the coun­try with the largest num­ber of el­derly peo­ple, China will cer­tainly have enough po­ten­tial clients. By the end of 2017, there were 241 mil­lion Chi­nese peo­ple, or 17 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, aged 60 or above. Of them, 158 mil­lion — more than 11 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion — were 65 or above, ac­cord­ing to data from the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics.

With peo­ple’s ris­ing liv­ing stan­dards, for­est ther­apy has be­come pop­u­lar among el­derly cit­i­zens. The ex­pe­ri­ence of­fers a chance for peo­ple to get back to na­ture, and spend their re­main­ing days among peace­ful green trees. In ad­di­tion, the fresh air, or­ganic food and rich cul­ture of­fered by ru­ral liv­ing helps to of­fer a healthy life­style for body and soul.

Sta­tis­tics from the Na­tional Forestry and Grass­land Ad­min­is­tra­tion showed that in 2015 there were 2.3 bil­lion vis­its to na­tional for­est tourism sites, and 1.07 mil­lion peo­ple made their liv­ing from the in­dus­try.

By 2020, the NFGA strives to build 200 demon­stra­tion for­est cities, 1,000 for­est towns, 10,000 for­est parks, and to raise the an­nual vis­its in for­est tourism to 2.5 bil­lion.

Ac­cord­ing to an­a­lysts, the sec­tor also helps pro­vide work in ar­eas with high lev­els of ru­ral poverty.

Sta­tis­tics from Fire­stone In­vent­ing, a con­sult­ing com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in the med­i­cal in­dus­try, showed that by last Oc­to­ber there were 374 for­est ther­apy pi­lot pro­grams across China. Most are lo­cated in South­west, North­east and Cen­tral China, ar­eas which are rich in nat­u­ral re­sources but tend to be eco­nom­i­cally un­der­de­vel­oped.

“For­est ther­apy is an es­sen­tial part of build­ing a Healthy China,” said Zhang Jian­long, head of the NFGA, adding: “The de­vel­op­ment of the in­dus­try not only in­creases em­ploy­ment, im­proves peo­ple’s liveli­hoods, and en­hances peo­ple’s sense of well-be­ing in a healthy life, but also meets the re­quire­ments of pre­cise poverty al­le­vi­a­tion and forestry sup­ply-side struc­tural re­form.”

Liu Ting­fang, chair­man of the com­mit­tee of the in­ter­na­tional med­i­cal tourism de­part­ment un­der the China In­ter­na­tional Ex­change and Pro­mo­tive As­so­ci­a­tion for Med­i­cal and Health Care, agreed. “The tourism in­dus­try and health­care in­dus­try are two key sec­tors for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. The med­i­cal tourism in­dus­try is the in­te­gra­tion of the two sec­tors, and will be­come a new growth point for global eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” he said.

SHA XIAOFENG / FOR CHINA DAILY

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