Staying Fit in a Foodie Capital of the World

Liam (right) and his brother on the Dragon's Back hike in Hong Kong.

Written by  June 9, 2014

Is there a "freshman 15" when it comes to travel?

The first time I travelled abroad I gained 15 pounds. Fifteen! There were definitely some surprised looks on my parents’ faces when “fat me” stepped off the plane upon my return home. Thankfully, I was 20 years old and after two weeks of running every day I was back to my old, fit self.

When you travel, study or live abroad, you’re thrust into this new foreign and amazing world. The last thing on your mind is getting your eight servings of fruits and veggies and your 60 minutes of exercise in every day.

Hong Kong is a foodie capital of the world and the temptation to do nothing but eat is something I struggle with every day. But I’ve been diligent and I’m still (more or less) the same weight as I was when I got here six months ago.

Besides “maturing” in my food consumption habits, there still remains the issue of staying active. As I enter my mid-20s I know my metabolism won’t be on my side forever. And seeing as no one wants to read about how many vegetables I consume in a week, I’ll present you with something that I hope is a little more enlightening about living in this wild and wondrous city.
Here are my top three ways to stay fit and active in Hong Kong (and not get fat):

1. Go to the gym.

Simple, right? And I know what you’re thinking: You can go to the gym back home whenever you want. But my experiences in Hong Kong have been a little different. Basically, if you want to work out at a gym in this city you have two options: public or private.

The problem with the big private gyms in Hong Kong is that they really want you to sign up. They really, really, really want you. But they also want to you pay extraordinarily large amounts of money and lock you in to long-term contracts. I went to a few gyms and got the same high-pressure sales pitch and attempts to up-sell. The gyms are very nice and modern and your membership comes with a number of perks. But be prepared to pay for it.

The public gyms, while not near as upscale as the private ones, are considerably cheaper. The biggest catch, however, is the three-hour orientation session—all in Cantonese. Out of about 40 people I was the lone Westerner. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone. It was a very awkward three hours and I must have refreshed Facebook about 47 times. But I stuck it out and with a little helpful translation from some of the locals I passed the written test and got a nice little piece of paper certifying me as a gym member.

That was about four months ago now and how many times have I been to that gym? Once. Go figure. But in retrospect, I don’t regret those three hours. It was an interesting, local experience I won’t ever forget. 

2. Join a social sports team.

This is also something you can do back home. But the social eagerness of people in Hong Kong makes it so easy to join a club and make new friends. Everyone is willing to refer you to a club or invite you along and even if you sign up by yourself, you’ll be welcomed with open arms. Furthermore, the geography and the variety of cultures offer such a wide range of options that you might not find anywhere else. Flag football, Gaelic football, hockey, mountain biking and even surfing are all possible in Hong Kong. I never thought I’d be playing flag football in Hong Kong with a team consisting of English, French, American, Austrian and Canadian players. It’s a pretty unique opportunity. And I also learned that flag football is pretty big in France. Who knew?

3. Take a hike.

This is the mother of all Hong Kong activities and an absolute must in the city. When I first got to Hong Kong, all I heard from colleagues and new friends were questions about whether or not I was “into hiking” or asking what hikes I’d done so far in Hong Kong. So yeah, it’s a big thing here. Surrounded by mountains, Hong Kong offers endless hikes, many of which would take a few days to complete if you wanted to do them from start to finish.

The best thing about Hong Kong is that you can live in the middle of the big city but within an hour you can be on a beach or hiking in the mountains. It honestly surprises me every time. Now I’m not talking Alberta Rockies-type mountains, but impressive nonetheless. It doesn’t get much better than finishing a good four-hour hike up above the clouds with a refreshing swim at some of the nicest beaches out there.  

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Liam O'Donovan

Liam O'Donovan is 24-year-old marketing grad from Edmonton, now living and interning in Hong Kong. He has an unhealthy obsession with fantasy sports and a budding love for craft beer. Get a load of Hong Kong through Liam’s posts!

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