Fitness finds its feet in China despite Covid woes

Healthy lifestyle: Joggers run along the Bund as the Lujiazui Financial District stands in the background in Shanghai. There has been a steady increase in the number of people willing to take up some form of exercise since the pandemic began. ─ Bloomberg

BEIJING: Though the Covid-19 epidemic crimped leisure and normal life to a large extent in China last year, it has not dampened the awareness and demand for fitness-related activities and products, judging by their steady growth.

According to the 2020 China Fitness Industry Data Report released during the 2021 FIBO China exhibition in Shanghai, there were 44,300 fitness clubs and stores across the nation by the end of last year. Though the number was down by 11.1% on a yearly basis, industry experts said the lower numbers were primarily due to Covid-19.

Average closure rate of fitness clubs and studios in major cities stood at 16.15% and 21.55%, respectively, last year.

Even though the number of physical establishments fell, the epidemic triggered a tantamount increase in the number of people participating in sports and fitness-related activities. The number of people participating in fitness-related activities rose from 68.12 million in 2019 to 70.29 million last year.

Shi Shenghai, co-founder of the Luwan Runners Club in Shanghai, said there has been a steady increase in the number of people willing to take up some form of exercise.

For the past few years, Shi and members of his club gather at the Luwan outdoor stadium in Shanghai, and split into small groups according to their capabilities, and undergo training sessions under the watchful eyes of volunteer coaches.

The club with around 2,000 members is widely known among runners for its discipline and persistence, as well as the strong performances of its longtime members. Since its establishment in 2014, the group has been training on Tuesday evenings. On warm and clear weather days, more than 100 would join the run, while on cold or rainy days dozens of die-hard runners would still show up and complete the training.

But in 2020, the teams “stopped the group training for four months, from January to May, because of the pandemic”, Shi said. When the club resumed operations in June, Shi found the number of new runners was growing, and new running groups were sprouting too.

Shanghai has quite a few tracks popular with runners. For example, the ring track around Century Park in Pudong is spread over five kms, while the paved tracks along the Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek allow runners to enjoy great views along the way.

On average, more than 100,000 people participate in the running-related activities, said Shi. Some of the tracks have become so popular with runners that sometimes it is a bit too crowded, said Qian Kan, a 32-year-old marathon runner and triathlon athlete.

A growing number of veteran runners like Qian are taking up the interdisciplinary and more challenging triathlon run too. “When your knees hurt after long runs, you go swimming and when you can’t make any more progress in the pool, you can turn to biking for a change, ” said Qian. ─ China Daily/ANN

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