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Fitness finds its feet despite COVID-19 woes

By HE QI and ZHANG KUN in Shanghai | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-05-05 08:23
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Participants warm up for the 2021 Beijing Half Marathon on April 24. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY

Growing demand for healthy living and awareness about products increasing in nation

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 percent on a yearly basis, industry experts said the lower numbers were primarily due to the COVID-19. Average closure rate of fitness clubs and studios in major cities stood at 16.15 percent and 21.55 percent 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 kilometers, 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.

On the other hand, a growing number of veteran runners like Qian are taking up the interdisciplinary and more challenging triathlon run.

"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 about the benefits of practicing for triathlon.

"You constantly struggle to make new breakthroughs and find that your capabilities are growing," said Qian, who is an office worker in Shanghai. "It gives you a great sense of fulfillment."

Like the industry experts, Qian also agrees that a growing number of people are taking up activities like cycling and triathlon. A number of new athletic bicycle shops have opened recently in Shanghai, selling finer and more expensive equipment, he said.

Shi from the runners' club estimates that there are more than 10,000 people who are training for triathlon in the city, and said most of them are willing to invest in fitness equipment and gadgets. For example, a starter's bicycle may cost 2,000 yuan ($308.4), but there are also some expensive bikes which can cost as much as 100,000 yuan.

Though several sports events were canceled and outdoor sports became largely impossible last year, it did not stop people eager for training to invest in home gyms. Qian, for example, bought a treadmill and an indoor spin bike, so that his training was not disrupted.

According to data released by LeadLeo Institue, the national home fitness market reached 28.15 billion yuan in 2019, with a compound annual growth rate of 35.5 percent in five years, and it is expected to reach 40.4 billion yuan this year.

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