US-China Today spoke with Maurice Levine of Anytime Fitness in Asia on the recent expansion of exercise culture amongst the Chinese population and the prospects of opening gyms in China.

US-China Today邀请到了Anytime Fitness亚洲区的Maurice Levine与我们分享有关健身在中国的日益流行以及在中国健身房的市场前景。

Going to the gym is a part of the everyday routine for many Americans. From college students to working mothers, people make time in their daily schedules to go for a run or lift weights to maintain their fitness. However, in China, the concept of working out is almost unheard of, and only about 0.4% of the population owns a gym membership. Only recently has exercise begun to gain recognition and popularity in China, starting mostly with millennials. Anytime Fitness is a U.S.-based fitness company and one of the fastest-growing 24-hour gyms in the world. It was recently granted a license to expand its franchise into China, wherein lies a vastly untapped market for the fitness industry. US-China Today spoke with Maurice Levine, the master franchisee for Anytime Fitness in Asia, on the recent expansion of exercise culture amongst the Chinese population and the prospects of opening gyms in China.

Historically and culturally speaking, China has been pretty unfamiliar with the concept of fitness and working out. What has caused the recent shift?

I think it’s not just in China but globally, there’s a lot of science that’s been reported based around the values of fitness and exercise and eating the right food. China’s not immune to this styling of information delivery. In fact, in China, there’s a great proliferation of different types of media that feed the interests and appetites of the Chinese consumer, such that they learn a lot about what’s going on in the world and what’s going on around them. China is a community that has the information but has been underserved by the fitness industry, because the fitness industry is generally in major CBD (central business district) areas, where there are destinations and you have to commute to those gyms.

Convenience beats everything in the gym industry in China. If I can open up 1-3 km walking distance from where you live, you no longer have excuses not to go to the gym. If I can open up 24 hours, 7 days a week, you further have no excuses not to go to the gym. If I can use one key that accesses every gym in China through Anytime Fitness, and you happen to work in one area but reside in another area, and you can go to any or all of our gyms, again, those remove the barriers to a healthy lifestyle. We’re catering to those that either do not recognize the importance today, who do not know how to use a treadmill, and need to be spoken to in a way that appeals to them, that they understand. Or we’re working with people who have already an existing membership, a very small percentage that do, and go, “Wow, well this is just so much more convenient for me.” And so we’re trying to cater to as many as we can.

What are some of the biggest challenges of expanding into China?

In China, the same battle you have in any other market, which is the cost of real estate. Real estate’s rising at an alarming rate in China… we see a strong rental market as anywhere else in Asia, or in Singapore or Hong Kong where the rentals are the highest.

The next thing is, generally people are walking into the gyms for the first time: so there’s both a challenge and an opportunity. Literally, we’re showing people, we’re talking to them about the physiology and value of it all. It is hard work being in the gym, working out, and you have to do it, and it’s not something you do once for your change, it’s something you have to form a habit and do over time. And so they’re largely needing to be educated, the Chinese public. But that’s where an opportunity is.


Outside of educating people who walk into gyms, how is Anytime Fitness perpetuating a more general fitness culture in the Chinese public?

In so many ways. By holding classes that are free in the streets or in community areas, by providing wellness packages or offers to businesses. We don’t necessarily believe fitness has to happen inside the gym. It could happen anywhere there is an area to move or run. Some of the challenges though, in doing outside exercises as I see it these days in China, particularly in certain markets like Beijing, is that the air quality is sometimes not what you want it to be in order to get your wellness. I’ve personally run in the streets of Beijing, and I find that very difficult. And so that’s where we get some challenges making initiatives happen outside, because air quality sometimes tends to be very poor. We also do as much community outreach that works with other third parties, be they social community events or corporate, and we try to get them to learn more by them getting exposed to it and then hopefully coming to our gym — where we have greater control, again, over particular things such as air quality, where we have air purifiers and so on. But something as simple as air quality prevents you from doing a lot of the work you want to do, to move and exercise in the streets. You almost have to look for an alternative to doing activity outside.

Would you say that might be one of the main obstacles in why China might be a little slow to embracing fitness culture?

There’s just a general lack of understanding of the value of it all. It’s not inextricably linked to one thing or another. It’s actually quite scary what we’ve seen and what’s been reported in the media. 300 million Chinese are obese, one-third of its youth are seriously overweight. And prevalence of Crohn’s disease in China has risen ninefold in one generation, far faster than the rest of the world. So this is a cause for alarm. Considering the number of gyms, 2670 to be exact, it’s nothing compared to the population of mainland China. So there is going to be or we’ve already realized a tipping point. Compared to the US, the US has 19.3 percent penetration rate of gym-goers. China has 0.4. Decisive action needs to be taken to reverse this trend because it’s only getting worse.

What demographics might be most resistant or hard to educate on the importance of fitness?

I think this is generally the case, the elder population is the most challenging. I think the young audience, millennials and such, they kind of get it pretty quick. They love to come to the gym, take selfies and make it social, which is great. But the older generation I would say, 50+, 60+ and so on, either male or female — there is no skew in that department, for those audiences, because they’ve developed their own habits, and they’ve done that over their lifetime, that’s hard to break. It is harder to get the aunties and the uncles to the gym, frankly, and to have them stay with it and change their dietary habits. We also have to recount the fact that we’re speaking about fitness, but if there’s not a combination of movement, exercise and diet… it’s very hard to break some of the diets that do not help the audience. To change your life at an older age, as it relates to eating habits and movement habits, is very challenging. But at the same time, when in China, when you’re in the parks, you see something – absolutely beautiful – many do taichi in the park. That movement is glorious.