|A half-Marathon race is held in Wuhan, Hubei Province, on May 2, 2015 (XINHUA)
About five years ago, Liu Chun'er, a Beijing-based office professional, hated her own image in the mirror.
"Fat-laden waist and stocky legs obscured my curve," she said. She did not even have the courage to wear skirts.
Now she loves to don skirts, snap pictures of herself and share them with her friends via social media platforms. Moreover, she has become a fitness role model for her husband and acquaintances.
Five years ago, Liu was inspired by a social sports instructor who said that it is not difficult to shed fat in legs through exercise. She was determined to reshape herself.
Like Liu, more and more people in China seek professional opinions from instructors for their daily workout. Since 1993, social sports instructors have been made a certified profession in China. Not working in schools, they instruct and organize the general public to engage in non-competitive sports.
Statistics from the General Administration of Sport of China (GASC) show that, as of the end of 2014, more than 1.7 million people in China had obtained skill certificates for this occupation and 120,000 people have been certified as professional social sports instructors at the national level. Currently, there are more than 47,000 registered social sports instructors in Beijing. Over the years, social sports instructors in China have learned how to provide better and better services.
Following the advice of a social sports instructor, Liu first learned how to swim. In addition, she ran in the pool because she believed that the resistance of water makes it harder to move legs and hence consume more fat stored therein, while water buffers shocks to joints.
"Walking, biking, cross-country skiing and climbing staircases are all good exercises to trim legs," Liu shared via WeChat, a popular social media platform in China.
Although jogging can burn fat, for some overweight people, it might be too difficult to continue running for an extended period of time. For them, a good method is to combine walking with jogging.
Liu usually walks to work, and on the way, she jogs intermittently. She has extended the distance gradually over time.
Every day at home, she rides a fitness bike and uses a fitness ball. Another workout routine she follows at home is to face the wall, with two hands placed on the wall, and presses and stretches her two legs in turn.
Her goal is not only to lose weight or get a pair of thin legs, but to make herself stronger and healthier.
"Many ladies such as me no longer like being skinny and fragile," Liu said.
Now, fitness has become an indispensable part of her life, she added. "I will feel at lost if I do not exercise on any day," she said. On smoggy days, in addition to exercising at home, she also likes to go to a community fitness center.
Through body-building, Liu has harvested not only health but also friendship. She and the friends she has made while keeping fit often exchange photos and fitness experiences.
As people's living standards rise, they pay more and more attention to health and fitness, and would like to spend money on that; meanwhile fitness centers have also mushroomed, whose environment and facilities are getting better and better, Liu explained.
Data from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports show that more than half of urban residents exercise regularly, and 87 percent of residents indicate healthy lifestyle as a priority. According to the bureau, the percentage of exercising residents in the city has reached the level of developed countries.
In China, fitness is not only a personal choice, but also a national strategy. In the past decades, the government has been promoting fitness activities across the country at full steam.
In early 2009, the State Council, China's cabinet, designated August 8 as National Fitness Day to raise public awareness.
On February 12, 2011, the State Council released the National Fitness Program (2011-15), which outlines the plan for improving residents' health during the five-year period.
The result of a comprehensive evaluation on the program was released on December 23, 2015, by the GASC.
"The program has produced obvious results," said Liu Peng, Minister of the GASC. He said that the percentage of people that exercise often had increased to 33.9 percent as of the end of 2014, up 5.7 percentage points from 2007. This percentage is also higher than the 32 percent target set in the national plan.
Liu Peng said that both urban and rural residents' physical conditions have improved. A national physical fitness survey conducted in 2014 showed that 89.6 percent of Chinese residents were fit, up half a percentage point from 2010.
Now the national fitness program has been included in the country's social and economic development plan, listed in the budget of various levels of government, and covered in their annual work report. By the end of 2015, China had more than 1.2 million sports venues, more than the targeted number set in the National Fitness Program, while the area of sports venues averaged to 1.5 square meters per capita, according to Liu Peng.
Jiang Chongmin, a GASC official in charge of the national physical fitness monitoring office, said that the monitoring followed very strict standards. He said that 21 indicators were used to measure fitness. "If three indicators were missing for a respondent, we would drop the sample," he said. As a result, the GASC deleted more than 10,000 invalid samples, he added.
In 2000, Jiang participated in the first national physical fitness survey. Since then, the survey had been carried out once every five years, except for the fourth one, which was conducted in 2014 rather than 2015, he said.
The fourth survey was done one year ahead of schedule so as to provide data for the formulation of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), he explained.
While flourishing fitness activities enhanced the physical health of participants, they also nurtured a big sports industry.
In October 2014, the State Council released its opinions on boosting the industry and spurring sports consumption.
The State Council predicted that by 2025, China's sports industry will have a total value of more than 5 trillion yuan ($806 billion), while more than 500 million people will exercise regularly. By that time, the per-capita area of sports grounds will be 2 square meters.
By then, "it can be inferred that the value of the sports industry will account for 1-1.5 percent of the GDP, which is at a level compatible with that of developed countries in North America and Europe," said Yi Jiandong, Vice President of Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, who specializes in sports humanistic sociology.
The development of the sports industry will push forward the growth of the service industry as well. "The sports industry is a labor-intensive industry, which will create jobs, and improve people's physical health, hence it is of important social value," said Yi.
Yi said that the government's preferential tax for cultural and sports industries will further propel their development. Previously, some sports such as golf and billiards were taxed as entertainment, so the tax rate used to be high. According to the opinions released by the State Council, cultural and sports industries will be subject to a 3 percent business tax, lower than that of the entertainment industry.
In the fall of 2015, Wang Jianlin, CEO of Wanda Group and one of the richest men in Asia, also predicted that the sports industry will have bright market prospects.
Boosted by Internet Plus
In the Internet era, fitness activities have been promoted both online and offline. Mobile Internet apps have been developed for people to monitor their own and their friends' exercise online and encourage each other to continue. Wang Fengxun, Associate Editor in Chief of a fitness magazine, has downloaded several fitness apps, through which he interacts with friends.
These apps can also be used to book fitness clubs, such as Run Bear Run, a ClassPass fitness model launched by Beijing Run Bear Run Technology Co. Ltd. in April 2015.
By paying 99 yuan ($15) per month, a user can exercise up to three times in that same month in any fitness center operated by Run Bear Run, said Tian Yingying, the company's chief operating officer. Traditionally, fitness club membership in China usually costs hundreds of dollars per year, which holds undetermined or busy people back. The Run Bear Run model makes access to fitness clubs more affordable and flexible.
In 2014, a novel form of fitness centers that can be booked through Internet apps appeared in front of an office building in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province. The mini mobile center is actually converted from several containers, equipped with various facilities such as smart treadmills. No club card is required. Users can reserve and pay for equipment usage by hours. Through Internet apps, they can also make appointment with and pay fitness instructors.
Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell
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