I'm planning to live in Korea soon. And I was talking to some friends who studied abroad there recently. They tell me that unlike America, Koreans don't jog or run in the streets. I'm from Madison which is a very heavy biking and running city. I love to run outdoors and lift weights. I was wondering how Koreans exercise? Do they even exercise? One of my friends told me that they don't really exercise, but instead just eat less and diet. From the international students I see here, majority of the korean students are very fit. I was wondering if you had any knowledge on exercise in Korea.Your friends are right. Koreans don't run, jog, speed-walk or bike on city streets. It would be nearly impossible to do so anyways. I typically am out running or biking with my dog at 5:00am and even at dawn, I find it difficult to get in a solid workout without being interrupted by traffic, drunk twenty-somethings, trash or, my personal favorite, the puddles of vomit --or "pizza" as Koreans call it-- which are flung all over the sidewalks.
They do, however, do a lot of exercising in other areas. There are countless gyms blanketing most cities that are usually pretty active from open to close. In most towns and cities, there are small parks that have body-resistance exercise machines. Those seem to be the most popular with the older crowd and especially with the ajummas. And if that wasn't enough, scores of ajumma can be spotted grouping together near any major waterway for some only-in-Korea-would-this-pass-for-exercise aerobics slash white-gloved hand movements.
On the weekend, you'll find that most of the city parks are swamped with people of all ages exercising. They're riding bikes, running, jogging and walking dogs. Sports fields are full of people playing soccer, basketball and baseball. I like to play tennis and usually have to make a reservation nearly a month in advance is I want to play. In the summer, the rivers and lakes are bustling with skiers, windsurfers and jet-skiers. In the winter, you'll find it pretty packed on the slopes as well. Koreans certainly exercise, just in acceptable venues and the street, for the most part, is not acceptable.
I can't find it now, but I read a couple years ago that the average Korean child gets twelve minutes of exercise a day compared with the forty-eight minutes the American child was getting. In fact, it's getting so bad that child obesity in Korea is nearly double what it is in Japan and rapidly approaching America's rate. The adult rate obesity rate is getting pretty bad as well, but that's what happens when you work late and eat dinner even later.
I guess dieting or eating less would be one way of staying slim and Koreans are just as apt to fall for diet trends as the rest of the world is (see the Japanese banana diet), but I think most people here (outside of Gangwon) see the value of an honest workout and a healthy diet -even if they are snobby about their foods' health benefits and/or superiority.
Oh, and in case you're wondering where I've been, you can visit The Pious One...