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Keeping active in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia has the highest activity level in the world according to the World Health Organization, but there are growing concerns that physical fitness levels in the region are on the wane. Westernised influence of high-fat, sugary foods and long, sedentary working hours in front of computer screens are the main reasons for this concern.
Keeping active doesn’t just keep your body in good shape, it reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and it can lower blood pressure. What’s more, the endorphins released during exercise can help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Here are just a few of the latest and emerging sports and activities taking Southeast Asia by storm:
Group workout sessions
Group workouts are growing in popularity, so says Joel Tan, founder of BBounce Studio, a high-energy exercise class that involves bouncing on a trampoline to loud music. Speaking recently to cyberpioneer, he explains, “Friends who work out together stay together.”
Zuu, in particular, a high-intensity group workout which mimics animal movements, is the latest group workout trend, according to Singapore-based Straits Times. Users take part in 45-minute sessions outside work or during lunchbreaks.
With Asia’s deep-rooted heritage in the martial arts, it’s no surprise that the high-energy Muay Thai – sometimes called ‘the art of the eight limbs’ because it uses fists, elbows, knees and shins for full combat – has made an impact on fitness trends in the region. Muay Thai along with T’ai Chi, it’s gentler cousin, continue to be popular activities in the region. T’ai chi, in particular, has long been part of the region’s workday culture. Its deep breathing and slow, deliberate movements can help reduce stress and improve balance and posture, and is a great way to start the day.
You need to drink more water when exercising in the higher temperatures of Southeast Asia, especially during the humid months between May and October, to avoid heat exhaustion.
The ancient Indian practice of yoga remains a firm favourite, however, Jolene Foo writing in Malaysian online fitness website, Health Works, says that aerial yoga is the latest trend among Malaysian fitness enthusiasts. Originating in New York, the practice combines traditional yoga techniques while balancing on suspended hammocks. “Aerial yoga is relatively low impact and will be great replacement for those who find traditional yoga difficult,” she says.
Residential fitness bootcamps are growing in popularity across the region, particularly in Thailand, where there are growing numbers of expats looking to kickstart their fitness regimes. These intensive fitness programmes are designed for all abilities and offer personal attention from expert trainers and fitness specialists, who lead a variety of activities such as circuit training, hill sprints and cycling days.
Although not unique to Southeast Asia, outdoor gyms are becoming more widespread, as many are put off traditional gyms by the expensive membership fees and long waiting lists. Thailand-based fitness blogger Arnel Banawa recommends Bangkok Gym in Lumphini Park, Bangkok, which has a variety of fitness equipment and a 2.5km running path. In Hong Kong, Gymbox24 on Hong Kong Island is the area’s first and only 24-hour open-air gym.
Avoid exercising outdoors when there is a lot of traffic congestion. Extra care should be taken if you suffer with a respiratory illness or if you suffer from allergies.
Hiking has always been popular and Southeast Asia is not short of spectacular scenery and incredible environments to explore. Indonesia is home to tropical forests and volcanic mountains, and there are plenty of hiking trails in and around the islands of Thailand. On Hong Kong Island, the 50km hiking trail is a particularly popular hotspot and offers walks of varying lengths and terrain depending on ability.
Swiping for fitness
Despite the sedentary lifestyle associated with technology, another growing trend means getting fit in Asia could result in more screen time, not less. According to Tiffany Ap, Asia correspondent for CNN, an increasingly tech-savvy population means more people are turning to technology to get fit as an alternative to gyms.
As Ap explains, considering that four of the top five countries who spend the most time looking at screens are in Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, China and Vietnam), it’s not surprising that the popularity of fitness apps is growing.
There are many apps available – such as the globally-popular FitBit or MyFitnessPal – which track activity levels, food, weight and sleep. ‘Portable trainers’, meanwhile, mean you can exercise without having to go to a class or gym. Yogaia, for example, allows you to livestream yoga classes to your living room.
Now the market is starting to expand into more social media and even dating-style apps, all focused on encouraging people to become more mindful of their health.
Hong Kong-based start-up Jaha, for example, has been dubbed the ‘Tinder for fitness’. It allows users to browse and link up with similar-minded sports enthusiasts in their area and encourages users to share workout results, start challenges and compete against each other.
For those more into self-image, Healthy Selfie is an Instagram-like app that encourages you to ‘track your transformation’, to notice the incremental changes in your body, as well as record your healthy meals, and also share recipes and tips.
Should I join a gym?
With the international gym chains expanding into Southeast Asia, there has never been more choice for consumers – but it comes at a cost. According to Business Insider, people are paying up to $24,000 a year for international top-end gyms.
Expect to pay between $100-200/month, plus a sign-up fee for global gym brands, or up to $100/month for local equivalents. Alternatively, there’s the KFit app which gives access to 10 fitness activities in any gym across SE Asia for RM139/month.
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