With their bright colors, Beijing’s public exercise facilities resemble playgrounds. Courtesy of Alex Balfour, London
Case

Beijing: Exercise opportunities for all

The Chinese government has built upon the 'Olympic fever' created by the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to encourage physical activity around the country. Installations of outdoor exercise equipment for public use have made physical activity more accessible and more appealing to a wide range of the Chinese population.


Since 1998, the Chinese government has created approximately 4,000 outdoor gyms in Beijing. Available to residents and visitors alike, these facilities can be found throughout the city’s parks, streets, and other public areas. The national and municipal governments have promoted these facilities through public events such as the annual National Fitness Day and Beijing Olympic City Sports Culture Festival.

With the exception of their bright colors, the outdoor exercise machines resemble the exercise equipment that is popular in private, indoor gyms. Unlike standard exercise equipment, however, the outdoor machines harness an individual’s body weight instead of using electricity to create resistance and can therefore be used by a wide range of gym-goers. These machines are easy to install, can be left outside in inclement weather, and are virtually maintenance free.

Would-be gym-goers often site accessibility and affordability as two of the most significant barriers to regular physical activity, so the outdoor gyms are noteworthy for compelling more people to exercise more often. The outdoor exercise facilities include both machines that stretch and strengthen various muscle groups and machines that improve cardiovascular endurance, so they provide the same work-out available at a private gym. But since these machines are free to use, they appeal to the vast majority of the Beijing population for whom the high cost of joining a private fitness club is prohibitive.

People of all ages use Beijing’s outdoor gyms. Photo by jacksonwood 4 November 2007, Flickr Creative Commons

For other Beijing residents, using the public exercise equipment represents a transitional stage between not exercising regularly and joining a fitness club. Above all, these facilities are intended to improve the health of city residents by helping individuals to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines.

The outdoor gyms also afford a number of secondary social benefits. Helping to animate the urban landscape, these machines represent yet another way for people to enjoy Beijing’s public spaces. Outdoor exercise has helped youths and elderly in particular to connect with others and to create communities within their city.

There also exists an economic benefit from promoting a culture of physical activity in Beijing. The sports industry is just beginning to emerge in China, boosted in large part by the excitement surrounding the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Nonetheless, this industry still accounts for only 0.5 percent of China’s total GDP, compared to 1 to 3 percent in most developed countries and 4 percent in the United States. Making the public excited about exercise will help this sector to grow in China.

Perhaps most importantly, the positive externalities created by a fit population that cares about its physical health are enormous. Healthier citizens can translate into a healthier civil society.

London follows Beijing’s lead

In preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, British municipal governments are working with private sponsors to create outdoor exercise facilities in the five host boroughs and beyond. The sporting goods company Adidas, a sponsor of the 2012 London Olympics, is helping to create adiZones, public fitness facilities arranged in the shape of the 2012 Olympic logo. The first “adult playground” opened in central London’s Hyde Park in May 2010.

Outdoor exercise facilities in Denmark

Municipal governments in Denmark are beginning to follow the outdoor exercise trend. For example, in Ballerup Municipality, a region located about 20 kilometers northwest of Copenhagen, facilities have been installed near five different residential areas, and city planners are working with businesses in Ballerup to install additional facilities near workplaces. The project is part of a long-term effort to focus on public health in Ballerup Municipality, with an emphasis on voluntary participation in healthy activities. City planners want to ensure that “the healthy choice” is also “the easy choice,” so improving the accessibility of exercise facilities is a central part of this initiative.

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Comments

Hi

Im interested to get in touch with someone i Beijing who can tell me more about the strategies behind these outdoor gyms etc. Do you have any names outthere, maybe in the municipal government?

Regards,
Rune

Hi Rune,
We don't have personal contacts in Beijing but try to contact some of the organisations listed in the right hand bar under 'Partners'. Good luck!

Hello I am in Chengdu, I have not had a chance to go to Beijing, I hope you have a chance to play in Chengdu, Chengdu welcome you, I had the opportunity to play, must go to Beijing

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Making the Change

Key Learning Points

Beijing’s public exercise facilities have been so successful in large part because a citywide educational campaign has accompanied the installation of physical infrastructure. City residents have not only received access to new equipment, but city officials have actively promoted their use and worked to create a culture of physical activity, both before and after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The new exercise facilities have been targeted at ordinary city residents. Gym-goers do not need to make an appointment to use the equipment, wear special apparel, or possess special skills. In this project, the municipal government has made it easy for city residents to make healthy choices.

So too has the municipal government made it enjoyable to make healthy choices. Painted with bright colors, the equipment has been compared to a playground. This project proves that exercise can and should be a pleasant recreational activity.

Process

1998
In order to encourage the Chinese population to engage in more physical activity, the Chinese government begins installing outdoor exercise equipment around the country.

Summer 2001
China secures its bid for the 2008 Olympic Games, held in Beijing. Efforts to install outdoor exercise equipment intensify in Beijing in particular, as the government launches a massive campaign to develop the city’s hutongs, or alleyways.

Spring 2006
Beijing’s municipal government launches a citywide exercise campaign to increase the percentage of city residents who regularly engage in physical activity.
Summer 2008: Beijing hosts the Olympic Games. “Olympic fever” infects the Chinese population, and sports and exercise become more popular than ever before.

Summer 2009
On the first anniversary of the Beijing Olympic Games, the Chinese government organises the first annual National Fitness Day. The goal is to use the legacy of the Olympics to continue to encourage Chinese citizens to be more physically active.

Summer 2010
The Beijing Olympic City Development Association announces the first annual Beijing Olympic City Sports Culture Festival, to begin on the second anniversary of the Beijing Olympic Games. The festival includes two weeks of sports-related activities in the Olympic Green area.

Facts

City Facts

Country: China
City: Beijing
Population: 22,000,000 (2010)
Area: 16,801.25 km2
Population density: 1,309.5/km2 (2010)
GDP per capita: $17,063 USD (2009 est.)

Source: Wikipedia and CIA World Factbook

Project facts

Between 1998 and 2008, the Chinese government installed 3.4 million square metres of outdoor exercise equipment around the country, in order to promote physical activity among the Chinese population. The total cost of installing outdoor exercise equipment in cities and villages around China is expected to reach 3 billion yuan (about $430 million USD) by the end of 2010.

Many of these efforts have been concentrated in the Beijing area as part of the preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games. Approximately 4,000 outdoor fitness facilities have been created in Beijing alone.

According to national data, two-thirds of Beijing residents now participate in some form of physical activity - significantly more than the national average of one-third.

Facts for Thought

Regular exercise helps people to control their weight, reduce their risk for certain diseases, and generally improve their physical condition. Having an active lifestyle is particularly important for older individuals because it allows them to maintain healthy bones and muscles, lower their blood pressure, and live independently longer. And outdoor exercise is particularly beneficial for exposing people to sunlight and improving mental health.

Media

YouTube

Exercise equipment in Beijing park

Google Map

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“The agriculture sector is also indirectly responsible for emissions in other sectors.
Agriculture is a key driver for land use change such as deforestation, production of fertiliser, use of agricultural equipment that requires an energy source, and transportation of agricultural inputs and outputs leads to emissions from the industry, power, and transport sectors respectively”
Stern Review, 2006

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