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Health Care

Jogging is on a run in China, the land of tai chi

Exercise's rising popularity aided by apps that track progress and find friends

Running is becoming more popular in China, where health-conscious people have traditionally preferred group exercise like tai chi. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi and Getty Images)

DALIAN, China -- A jogging boom is sweeping China, helped along by the increasing popularity of fitness apps in the gadget-conscious country.

Chinese generally enjoy working out in groups, perhaps best symbolized by tai chi, a traditional exercise characterized by slow, rhythmic movements. But with the spread of smartphones and advances in information technology, new ways of keeping fit are catching on.

There were 125.5 million Chinese using fitness-related online services in 2018, up 52% from a year earlier, according to research company Intelligence Research Group. Jogging accounted for 33.9% of users, walking 34.2%, gym training 18% and dance practice 9.8%.

Overall market size, meanwhile, was approximately 440 million yuan ($63 million), a 32% increase over 2017.

The Chinese exercise apps not only measure distances run and calories burned, but also allow users to share results and meet fellow joggers close by.

"My app helps keep me jogging regularly," said a 32-year-old office worker in the city of Dalian, located in northeastern China's Liaoning Province. Since September she has been running about three times a week at a school near her home. Spending lots of time behind her desk led to weight problems. But once she started jogging, she quickly shed 2 kilograms.

The woman uses "Keep," an app launched in 2015 by startup Beijing Calorie Technology. According to research company iiMedia Research, there were 14.8 million active "Keep" users as of September.

The app keeps track of routes, distances run and calories burned, while also saving data so users can share their results with others. "Seeing what friends are doing can motivate me to try even harder," said the woman.

One of many jogging apps in China, "Keep" offers users a number of interesting functions, including the ability to link up with other like-minded runners in the immediate vicinity.

For "Keep" users looking for more than exercise, the app's GPS function can locate other runners nearby and send "friend" requests.

Annual membership costs about 248 yuan and includes access to training videos. The app also creates custom running regimens. For example, if one wants to lose 3 kilograms a month, the app makes the appropriate plan. It even sends friendly reminders to get running at a scheduled time.

Similar apps have also sprung up. Chengdu Ledong Information Technology's "Codoon" has about 6.7 million active users, while Yuedong Tianxia's "Yodo Run" claims 5.9 million.

App companies' revenues come from paid memberships and advertising but so far profitability has been low. "Compared with net services such as shopping, videos and music, few people pay for health apps," said a person with knowledge of the Chinese online sector.

This means "Keep" and other apps will likely need newer and better services before they can grow.

Still, the jogging boom has helped sales of related products, such as smartwatches, which can also measure heath and fitness. A Dalian resident in his 30s bought one for about 2,000 yuan. "I don't have to carry my smartphone when I jog," he said. Wireless earphones are also popular with joggers.

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