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Swedish Fitness & Chinese Remedies in Beijing

February 2015

By Ami Li, Beijing

Notorious for both its harsh northern winters and headline-making pollution, the truth is that it’s much easier to stay fit and fabulous in Beijing than the mainstream media might make it out to be. At the same time, a tendency towards hedonism makes a healthy Beijing lifestyle a matter of balance. No time is this more apparent than from Thanksgiving through Chinese New Year, an extended festive season thanks to the multicultural environment of the city.

I know because I was one of them this time last year. I had made all of the usual resolutions: yoga three times a week, finish Couch To 5k, quit smoking. And I had succeeded, sort of. The problem was that I had completed the running app and taken that accomplishment as a conclusion instead of a motivation. That was then, and this is now. Now entails embarking on master trainer Hal Higdon’s Novice 10k Training Guide. Because I’m not training for a race, only for myself, I adapt his guide to my schedule and environment. My favorite days are the good air days, when it’s possible to run in the little park downstairs from my apartment, clad in my favorite sports apparel, the Adidas Climaheat winter running tights.

When the weather’s uncooperative, I head inside for Heyrobics classes. Started in Sweden in the 1970s, the son of its founder brought it to Beijing. The social aspect keeps people coming back and it’s much easier to feel motivated when you’re seeing the same people in class week in and week out, improving together. A relatively new conundrum, as obesity rates rise among the Chinese population, the popularity of various forms of fitness increases as well. When local participants used to be a relatively uncommon sight in class, these days the sessions are split equally between locals and expats.

Many of my fellow expats cart back veritable pharmacies in their luggage after trips home. Sudafed and NyQuil are extremely popular but I prefer to take the more local route for generic pseudoephedrine like Panadal. I’ve yet to meet a cold that hasn’t been tamed by the Chinese cure-all Ban Lan Gen Chong Ji. This has been employed by Chinese parents on their children for generations and more expats are discovering the efficacy of this traditional Chinese Medicine. Ban Lan Gen Chong Ji is the powdered form of the isatis root, also known as Chinese indigo or woad root, combined with trace amounts of dextrin and cane sugar to counterbalance the root's bitter taste. Isatis has been part of Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for millennia, renowned for its ability to counteract the common cold and provide respiratory comfort. I purchase my packets from a China time-honored brand Beijing Tong Ren Tang, but those curious in its restorative properties can find imported Ban Lan Gen on Amazon.

Prevailing winds from the Gobi Desert render winters harsh and dry, so outside help is a must. New to the market are facials using products from the organic German line Primavera. Even though prices are comparable to what one would pay in the west, spa treatments are something I do not hesitate to splurge on in Beijing. The high-end beauty treatment market has exploded in recent years alongside China’s breakneck economic development, with domestic spas and salons competing for local business with one another and with beauty tourism to Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia.

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Beijing
Beijing Athleisure Apparel, Adidas Climaheat
Traditional Chinese Remedy for Colds in Beijing
Beijing Heyrobics Fitness Class

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