Colonel Sanders and his cronies are slowly taking over urban China. In 2016, KFC planned on 600 outlets across China. McDonald’s upped that number by forecasting 1,000 of their outlets in five years. The number of Starbucks in China could soon eclipse the number in the U.S.
This is great news for fast food lovers, but bad news for waistlines. Not surprisingly, along with the rise of fast food, obesity has also taken over China. The country now has the largest overweight population in the world. Rising incomes and an urban influx have added to the problem. A larger intake of calories coupled with physical inactivity isn’t helping, and the alarmingly quick growth of fast food chains only adds to the issue.
While the government’s Healthy China 2030 initiative looks to rein in the problem, the Chinese people seem to have taken matters into their own hands. In 2018, a number of fitness trends have caught on in China—a positive sign for a country that has 46 million women and 43 million men in the overweight category.
Here are five fitness trends taking over “Obese China” this year.
The steady growth in popularity of health and fitness apps is one sign that the Chinese are conscious about their health and weight.
The Keep app claims to be the first Chinese fitness app to have reached 100 million users. Keep is like having a personal trainer that guides and motivates you toward hitting your fitness goals. Workout instructions are easy to follow, making Keep a popular app for the busy Chinese adult who doesn’t have time for a gym.
Qiji, designed specifically for cyclists, and Maramara, created for marathon runners, are two other apps that have shown increased popularity in China this year. Translating to “cycling diary,” Qiji delivers on its name—and more. The app keeps track of speed, routes and timings, and allows users to share achievements and even live-stream their courses. The Maramara app, on the other hand, caught on when the Chinese started taking interest in long-distance running. Besides tracking activity data, the app allows users to apply to take part in marathon events.
Since the turn of the decade, the number of Chinese working out at a gym has increased by a whopping 4 million to 5 million across 70 cities. As Chinese incomes rise, hefty gym membership fees are no longer a deterrent for those wanting to break a sweat. Swanky gyms have popped up all over Shanghai and other major cities, giving the inhabitants a lot to choose from. This, in turn, has attracted gigantic investments, both public and private. China’s leisure and fitness industry now has an annual output value somewhere in the region of $150-200 billion.
A striking characteristic of this trend is the number of women who are signing up for gym memberships. Social media traction, celebrity influence and the rise of obesity have changed the way Chinese women think about their bodies. A skinny midriff isn’t the most popular body type in China anymore, as women sweat it out at gyms to achieve a figure that’s slender yet aerobicized.
For those in China who can’t afford a gym membership or simply don’t have time in their schedules for the gym commute, fast walking is the next best thing. When it comes to fitness exercises in China, fast walking tops the chart—mainly because it’s a straightforward way of staying shape. A pair of sneakers is all you need, and there’s nothing better than getting your daily fitness dose out in the open. In 2016, nearly 3 million Chinese participated in marathons for speed walking.
Companies pushing for fitness
China’s notoriously long workdays often make it difficult for corporate professionals to get to the gym. That’s why a number of companies are encouraging hikes and walks where employees get to spend time together in nature. This not only helps with team bonding, but also promotes a healthier lifestyle. Hiking has been shown to provide a cardio workout that also relieves stress, making it a win-win for employer and employee alike.
CrossFit and HIIT
A CrossFit workout aims for constant movement, combining a variety of exercises for improved conditioning and overall fitness. HIIT combines quick anaerobic exercise routines with short recovery periods. These forms of working out may be different, but after years of popularity in the west, they’re both becoming mainstays in Chinese fitness culture. The complete opposite of tai chi, these high-energy workouts are garnering interest specifically among Chinese millennials looking for a challenging way to stay fit.
Whether you’re joining a gym in China or simply speed walking around the neighborhood park, there is no denying the role social media has played in boosting fitness awareness in this eastern nation. Fast-food joints may be sprouting quickly in China, but the health and fitness sector is growing at a pace that might just see the Chinese bucking the obesity trend and getting more serious about fitness instead.