Exercising in China
One of my main concerns before coming to China was the accessibility to exercising. I am a firm believer that if you do not keep your body and mind in balance then you cannot perform at your best. At home, I usually exercise for at least an hour or more 5-7 days a week and will often go outside to run, play rugby and/or do body weight movements. Going outside was something I thought would not be an option here due to the air pollution, but I’ve come to find that was a wrong assumption. For students that like to work out, there are several options.
First, you CAN go outside to workout. After being here for a couple months, my first counter argument to someone who is wary of air pollution is that you truly are not going to be here long enough for it to make a huge difference on your lungs. Shanghai’s air pollution is bad compared to the US, but in comparison to China’s worst cities, it does not compare and, in the spring, most days are good days. The way I balance the potential unhealthy results of running in this pollution is to take a look at the PM 2.5 forecast on the U.S. consulate’s website before I go outside. If the level is very high, like 75 or above, I will opt to go to the gym and workout inside instead of going outside. If not, I will go outside to the campus track located very close to our apartment complex. Along with a track, there are pull up bars, monkey bars, ab crunchers, basketball courts, and a soccer field all in this area. Many students will take advantage of good air and go outside to play soccer or basketball together. You will also find a ton of Chinese here on most nights and it’s a good chance to strike up a conversation. Although it is inconvenient to have to think about whether the air quality is good today or not, that is the reality of the situation. I’ve only had a couple times where my initial plan to go outside needed to be changed.
Second, there is a gym nearby! It is at Jiangwan Stadium and Alliance will usually help set up a group rate at the beginning of the semester, which was 1100元（$160 USD）for 3 months this semester. Pretty expensive for what it is worth, the gym is mediocre, but is a reliable place to go if you are constantly worried about the air quality. There is everything you could expect at a gym you’d pay $30 a month for in the states. At peak hours (right after work 5p-7p) it is hard to find a treadmill. The weight equipment is minimal with only 1 of the most popular machines and only 1 bench and squat rack, but they surprisingly do have a sauna that seems to be rarely used. Although I haven’t attended yet, they also offer some good classes. The sales reps will get your WeChat and send you a schedule if you buy a membership. Overall, it gets the job done and was worth the investment for those bad air quality days. One thing that is essential to mention about the gym is that, unless you want to walk 30min, you will need to have a bike to get there.
Personally, I decided to balance between the gym and going outside. I used the gym more the first month or so and then began to go outside more and more often as weather and air quality both improved. You could always stay in your room and workout or just continue to study Chinese, but these two options above really force you to plan your day better and immerse yourself into Chinese culture. Just like shopping, which was mentioned in a previous blog post , this is another opportunity to expose yourself to China. For me, this was both something I had to have and a great opportunity. Using Chinese in the gym or on the track is a realistic way to practice. Plus, you may make a friend or two while you’re there. I’ve made several, one being of the most genuine experiences I’ve had here in China with an older gentleman. One week, for class, we had to write an essay about young people and old people habits and I chose to write about working out. That next week I had all the vocab to strike up a conversation with this man and we were able to have a full length conversation in Chinese. Now, whenever we see each other at the gym, one of us makes sure to come and say hi and chat for a few minutes. I love it. I know that you will find some opportunities to experience things like this, just get out there!