How Do Other Countries Approach Exercise?

When it comes to exercise around the world, going to the gym is not at the top of the list. Here’s how other countries approach fitness.
Resolution Week: Exercise Around the World

It’s resolution week! All this week, we’re highlighting how countries around the world tackle Americans’ most popular New Years’ Resolutions.

If you ask your group of friends what their New Year’s resolutions are, it’s pretty much guaranteed that at least of them will say, “I want to exercise more.” One 2017 survey found that 65 percent of Americans resolved to exercise more in the new year — the second most popular resolution after “eating healthier.” That’s why going to the gym on January 2 can be such a nightmare, with dozens of new people trying to start their year off right. But when you look at trends in exercise around the world, are people going to the gym and shuffling on an elliptical machine? Not so much.

For many people in countries around the world, fitness is less of a fad obsession and simply a part of everyday life. Walking and cycling are often the preferred means of transportation, which is far more active than sitting in a car to get from place to place. And in some countries, people are generally more fit, so additional exercise (like sports or group classes) is either for the social aspect or just for fun.

Here’s a look at the ways people like to exercise around the world, with the understanding that these are just some of the more common approaches and not generalizations about entire countries.

The Great Outdoors

On the whole, Europeans tend to get a lot more exercise by spending time outside. Rather than working out in a gym, many people in Europe (especially in Scandinavia, France and Germany) will go for walks, cycle, go swimming, hike or find other ways to get some exercise in the fresh air. Fun fact: surveys show Icelanders and Norwegians are the Europeans that exercise the most. They’re also two of the coldest countries, so perhaps exercise is just a good way to keep warm.

In China, it’s normal to see (often older) folks doing tai chi or calisthenics or dancing in parks or public squares, particularly in the morning. Employees in China and Vietnam will sometimes do these exercises together before they start their day of work.

Mind Over Matter

Mindfulness-based exercises are quite popular in many parts of the world. For instance, in India (as well as in parts of the Middle East), yoga is a cornerstone of exercise dating back to around 3000 B.C.E. While some Indians still practice the ancient forms of yoga, others are trying more modern variations. The yoga and pilates trends have certainly made their way west, and are very popular in Europe and the Americas as well (but not without pushback).

Nuts About Sports

Americans love watching sports, but playing them is generally just for kids. In other countries, however, playing sports is a lot more common among children and adults alike. Of course, the types of sports differ greatly from those in the United States. In most of the world, soccer is the most popular sport — though it’s slowly but surely making its way into the American zeitgeist — and it’s not unusual to see groups of people playing day and night in countries ranging from South Africa to Pakistan.

In some countries, like Bangladesh and Qatar, cricket is the name of the game. Pick-up games pop up wherever there’s an open field or abandoned lot to play on. Then there’s the French, who enjoy a rousing game of billiards now and then, though we’re not sure if they’re getting any exercise in the process.

Getting Intense

High intensity interval training, which consists of spurts of very intense cardio alternated with short breaks, is growing in popularity in some parts of the world. Falling into this category is Crossfit, which has spread rapidly across the United States in recent years.  Australians and Brits are particularly into HIIT, including Crossfit and more general HIIT workouts. These two countries are probably the most similar to the United States when it comes to gravitating toward gyms as a means of exercise.

Exercise your brain.
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