Putting one foot in front of the other is an increasingly popular pastime, and a healthy one, especially in major metropolises－which is why Beijing authorities are keen to keep the trend going.
The city’s Tourism Development Commission has unveiled plans to more than triple the number of walking and jogging trails over the next five years as part of an effort to create a greener environment and encourage physical fitness.
As a bonus, avid travelers often say, the best way to explore a city is on foot.
The city already has trails stretching a combined 1,300 kilometers in 11 districts and counties, mostly in and around scenic spots. Now, work has begun on adding another 2,000 km, including at places such as Yanqi Lake, sections of the Great Wall and venues for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“Trails offer multiple benefits,” Song Yu, director of the commission, said in announcing the plans. “People not only get new ways to exercise, but these walkways also connect many scenic spots with traditional villages. This helps develop rural tourism and provides a way to increase the incomes of residents.”
In economic terms, combining fitness activities with tourism is a gold mine. As disposable incomes in China have increased, the demand for sporting goods and services, as well as health products such as dietary supplements, have boomed.
“Over the past 10 years, I’ve been to most provinces in China to climb mountains, and I’ve hiked a lot overseas－in Nepal and India,” said Ding Xiaozhe, a Beijing accountant who estimates he spends about 40 percent of his income on leisure actitivies.
“When I’m home, I go running three times a week,” he said. “It’s all time and money well spent on my health.”
And that’s the goal for Beijing. Walking trails are not primarily about making money, they’re about averting a health crisis.
According to a report by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 11.9 percent of the country’s population is already obese, which in China is having a body mass index of 30 or more. Beijing tops the scale with 25.9 percent.
Getting it done
To help trim swelling waistlines, the central government published its first national fitness regulations in 2009, the same year National Fitness Day (Aug 8) was designated. Among the rules was an instruction for authorities to include investment in public sports facilities in their development plans.
A national fitness plan in 2011 set a five-year target to increase the space dedicated to public recreation facilities to 1.5 square meters per capita. By 2015, the amount actually reached 1.57 sq m, according to the General Administration of Sport.
In 2013, local governments were also given guidelines on how to develop a variety of travel and leisure services that encouraged healthy lifestyles, from hot springs and skiing to scenic hiking routes.
For the Beijing municipal government, getting more people out pounding the ground has been a major focus. Yet the city’s downtown areas－with their wide roads and often complex systems of overpasses and underpasses－still have some way to go to becoming pedestrian-friendly.
A 2014 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group based in the United States, ranked Beijing 11th of 35 Chinese cities assessed on road and sidewalk management.
To address the issue, the city government has been upgrading sidewalks and bicycle lanes. Work is also ongoing to demolish illegal structures that cover an estimated 40 sq km, as well as to reduce illegal parking. Both encroach onto sidewalks.
Once complete, exploring downtown Beijing on foot may be as pleasurable for residents and visitors as the city’s scenic walking trails.
First Person: Beijing is best for public sports spots
Qin Long, 31, is a property consultant in Beijing who has been running regularly for seven years.
I started running in 2010 when I realized I’d gained weight and wasn’t feeling well. At first, I worked out in a gym and used running machines, but I gradually found the air stifling.
Now, I like to run outside and just use the weights in the gym.
I travel a lot with my work, and I usually take my running shoes on business trips. Out of everywhere I’ve been in China, I’d say Beijing has the best public sport facilities. It has many parks with good walking trails.
My favorite is in the Olympic Forest Park. I go there for a run or a stroll three times a week: Twice on weekdays, to run at least 5 kilometers; and once on the weekend for a 10-km jog.
The trail is professional－soft and wide, and my knees are well protected. Some sports companies have sponsored construction of several rest stations along the trail where you can buy drinks or sit on a bench, which is convenient and considerate.
I’ve found many interesting places while running around the capital. For instance, I sometimes run in the Shichahai area, just north of the Forbidden City. It’s beautiful and peaceful, although there’s no professional trail there.
I guess it’s not realistic to build trails there because it’s often full of tourists, and the streets are narrow. But in the morning and evening I see many locals walking comfortably around the lake, which is nice.
Another place I enjoy to run is Yuan Dadu City Wall Ruins Park, which is further north. The trail is a bit hard, not great for running, but walking is a pleasant experience, as you can feel a mixture of ancient times and the modern world.
I do like the atmosphere of Shanghai’s small streets, but they are not for people who want to walk or run. It’s more for hanging out and enjoying the atmosphere. Last time I went to Shanghai, I saw a walking trail was being built along the Bund, which means the city is improving in this area, too.
But in terms of public sport facilities, Beijing leads the way. Saying that, the capital has natural disadvantages, too, like the weather and smog.
It’s too hot to run during the day in summer, so I have to wait until after 8 pm. Some of my friends get up before 5 am to run when the temperature is still cool. In winter, the smog is the biggest problem, as it prevents us from enjoying outdoor exercise.
Qin Long was talking to Du Juan.