When you travel to Beijing it won’t be long until you come across an outdoor gym. You can find them in parks, streets, along the rivers and in many other public places. It’s probably not even far away from many Beijing hotels. At certain times of the day they are well frequented, with many older residents enjoying using these opportunities.

While many of us only know playgrounds for children China and other Asian countries offer a lot more than that. The outdoor fitness facilities seem a little like an adult version of those and even have a kind of similar purpose. They don’t only offer an opportunity to exercise; they are at the same time places for social activities, where neighbors, friends or just strangers meet.

These gyms are comparable to private indoor gyms, but they are in the open air and there is no entrance fee. There are different types of fitness machines, some for stretching and others to build up strength. Moreover, these places generally don’t need maintenance and the equipment uses the bodyweight of the user to create resistance instead of electricity. So it’s friendly to the environment as well as to the user. It is a great opportunity for everybody who doesn’t have access to a fitness club or can’t afford it and contributes to an active lifestyle and improves the physical condition.

Some of these outdoor gyms were built as part of a nationwide fitness campaign that started in 1998. The main purpose was to animate people to engage in more physical exercise by making these facilities enjoyable and easily accessible to the public across the country. Following this nationwide campaign the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 offered a great opportunity to launch another citywide campaign. About 4,000 outdoor gyms were built in the Beijing area and sport has become more popular than ever with the Olympic Games in Beijing.

The result of these campaigns is definitely convincing, especially in the Beijing area where now about two thirds of all residents indicate to participate in some kind of physical exercise compared to the nationwide average of one third. Following Beijing’s example London has now also launched a similar campaign in preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Of course, with this topic there’s always an economic aspect to it. Staying fit and healthy reduces the risk for many diseases and helps to keep a healthy weight. That way, medical costs can be reduced considerably on the long run.

Beijing is probably the best example but if you travel to Shanghai or another big city you might not find as many of these outdoor gyms as in Beijing but you’ll definitely find them. So try them out, it’s a nice relaxation or strengthening for the muscles, whatever you prefer, and suitable of all ages.

Jack Li

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