Keeping Fit In Korea

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I’ve spoken before about healthy eating in Korea and explained why I find it easier to follow a healthy diet here than at home in England. The other part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is obviously to exercise. Before coming to Korea I’d switch between using the gym and going for runs outside. Since moving, I’ve found some aspects of keeping fit easier, others more difficult.

Here are what I consider the pros and cons of exercise in Korea:

♥ Hiking

There are hiking trails everywhere. From the numerous mountains for keen hikers, to the smaller trails hidden inside cities. Whether you want want to go for an intense 3-hour long trek, or for a gentle hour-long hike, there’s an option for you.

In Wonju where I live, there are not only two mountains just outside the city, but numerous trails within the city, so there’s plenty of choice should I wish to get some exercise, without having to head to the gym or go for a run. Plus, with the beautiful scenery of the trails, it’s a much more pleasant way to get some exercise, especially for nature lovers.

♥ Fitness Equipment

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You see these blue things a lot- up hiking trails, in parks everywhere. Ok, it might not in any way rival fitness equipment that you’d find at the gym, but it is fine to use for a few stretches. I’ve used the machines a couple of times and yes, they’re usually rickety, squeaky and shaky, but I’ve also found that they’re perfectly alright if you just want to stretch/ warm up/down during a hike or a run.

♥ Walking

I find that I walk a lot more in Korea, especially if I visit Seoul for the weekend- if I can, I avoid the subway because of the crowds, and choose to walk instead. I imagine that if you live in Seoul, walking could easily be the easiest way to incorporate exercise into your daily life.

As it is, even in Wonju, I walk more simply because most things are within walking distance. And that’s one advantage of living in Korea- the vast majority of people live in cities, so you are able to walk 20-minutes or half an hour to get somewhere, rather than drive. In England, if you live in the suburbs, walking isn’t an option.

(That’s not to say a lot of people will still opt to drive for convenience, but it’s a definite positive that walking is an option. If you’re feeling saintly, you can choose to get an hour of exercise just by walking to the shops and back, instead of grabbing a taxi. It couldn’t be easier).

♥ Cycling

The pavements always have a cycle-lane, making Korea a lot more bicycle-friendly than England for sure! In the UK, you aren’t allowed to cycle on the pavement, meaning you have to go on the road with cars, and as a result a lot of novice cyclists (like me) would feel nervous cycling around a city. But you can cycle pretty much anywhere in Korea, because you can go on the pavements.

Perhaps there are cycle paths because of the driving in Korea; I doubt many cyclists would want to cycle on the roads lest for fear of being knocked off their bike by crazy drivers. Either way, I know that cycling is a lot more convenient in Korea, making it another option for easy exercise.

♥ ⊗ Gyms

I can never decide whether gyms are better or worse in Korea; they have both their good and their bad points. The good: in my experience, the gyms have good equipment, are clean, and there are usually a lot of gyms in a city, so it’s more than likely you’ll be able to find one close to your home (nothing worse than having to drive 20 minutes to a gym- it de-motivates you before you even get there).

On the other hand, there are negatives. I’ve found the average gym to cost around 50,000 won per month, or 150,000 won for 3 months. While this isn’t extortionate, it is expensive, especially in a country where a lot of other things are so cheap. Especially because in a lot of gyms, this price doesn’t include use of a sauna or swimming pool. You can easily find cheaper monthly fees in England, and there’s not a lot which I’d say is cheaper in England than in Korea.

Plus, the main downfall, in my opinion, is the fact that most gyms are closed on Sundays. It might be the ‘day of rest’, but it’s also a day off work; for me, that’s a day I want to be able to visit the gym, and it’s so annoying that the majority are closed.

⊗ Weather Extremes

Weather is the main reason why I find it hard to exercise outside for a large part of the year. Autumn and Spring are fine, in fact, they’re beautiful times to go exercise outside; the weather is perfect, not too hot or cold. But in winter or summer, the weather is far too extreme.

In summer, you break out in a sweat just by stepping outside, let alone once you’ve got your heart rate up. In winter, your hands and face are numb within minutes. Even if you can ignore that, there’s also usually ice or snow which prevents you from exercising outside, unless you want to risk slipping over and injuring yourself. I’ve tried exercising outside during these two months, and it was just horrible. As a result, there are periods of time when I can’t choose to go out for a run, which is something I am able to do back in the UK.

⊗ Exercise Classes

I know that this isn’t a negative of Korea, but it’s a negative of being an expat- not understanding or being able to follow fitness classes. It’s a shame, especially when you see good classes which you’d love to take part in. I was going to attempt yoga class once, but my Korean friend told me that without being able to understand Korean, you’d find it extremely difficult. So if you’re a fan of group exercise classes, like me, you will probably be sad to know that they aren’t really a logical choice in Korea.

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In general, I manage to incorporate exercise pretty easily into my lifestyle, similarly to back in England. However, I know that if I didn’t have a gym nearby, I might find it more difficult to keep fit. As mentioned, exercising outside isn’t always the best option due to extreme heat/cold. And while in England I’d work-out at home if I couldn’t outside, I find this hard in Korea. Living in a flat with people below me, I’m well aware that the neighbours might get tired of hearing me thump around the flat to an exercise DVD. 

On the other hand, there is a huge positive in Korea, which is hiking. I was so happy to introduce hiking as a new way to exercise; it’s probably my favourite way to keep fit, and something I’ll definitely miss back in England. 

 

 

 

 

 

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32 thoughts on “Keeping Fit In Korea

  1. I think most of your points are accurate here, but I wouldn’t consider Korea a cycling-friendly place at all, especially Busan, where I call home. There are a few cycling lanes, but mostly they’re non existent and people drive so obnoxiously and aggressively that cycling among cars is a dangerous endeavor. It’s also a really hilly town which doesn’t help. You see more people cycling these days, but mainly on the bike paths (there are a few) and mountains. One visit to Japan, where people bike everywhere, reinforces what a terrible place for cycling this country is. But perhaps it’s better than the UK.

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    1. Thanks for your comment!
      I completely agree about crazy drivers, but where I live there are cycle paths everywhere, so it’s very easy to get around the whole city on your bike, which I love! I thought it’d be similar elsewhere in Korea, but obviously not! I would never cycle on the roads here!

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  2. Korea has some amazing hiking trails. I think I’ve actually lost weight here from all the walking too! But I agree with you, I find it hard to get motivated to exercise with this weather we have now! It’s snowing right now 😦

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    1. Haha they don’t really work if you’d use them as you would in a gym (e.g. the ‘cross trainer’ one), but you can use them for stretches, which I’ve done a couple of times. The Koreans seem to love them though!
      Haha I didn’t know what those vibrating things were either! Again, the older generation use them avidly!

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  3. I used all of these while in the country! I definitely utilized hiking the most. I literally had trails right behind my apartment building. The perfect way to shake off a soju-induced hangover after a company dinner!
    I didn’t use the outdoor equipment often but I did enjoy watching the older folk take part. More than most people in the U.S.A. do, for sure.

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  4. Haha the Koreans definitely love the outdoor exercise equipment!
    Glad you agree, and that you like hiking too! I will miss it when I go home. I’m also lucky enough to have hiking trails by my apartment!

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  5. I wish I had the guts to try out the exercise equipment. I did once and looked like a total idiot because I was using it totally wrong! The biggest downside to South Korea is the weather extremes… I love running outside, but obviously can’t anymore due to the snow. I just work out in my room now.

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  6. Haha I use the equipment rarely- you get strange looks from Koreans whether you use it correctly or not!
    I know, it’s such a shame when the weather gets colder and you can’t workout outside anymore 😦

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  7. I never really thought about the weather extremes hindering exercise, but that could be because I come from Minnesota that has snow at least 4 months out of the year. In Korea I live in the south, so not much snow (but still cold). I know back home a lot of people go cross country skiing in winter to stay fit. I wonder if cross country skiing is at all popular in Korea?

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  8. I love seeing the little clusters of exercise equipment everywhere- sometimes in the strangest locations! I just moved and there are a couple of exercise bikes on some random street corner not far from my house. But yeah, the hiking here is totally amazing, and it seems like no matter what part of the country you are in there is something nearby. I am already looking forward to spring so I can tackle a few more hills!

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  9. I also agree that gyms in Korea are definitely a negative. I live in quite an expensive area of a small city and the three gyms around me are 120 000W for ONE month! Outrageous and their equipment certainly isn’t worth that price.

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  10. I agree on pretty much all of your points here! Love the amount of hiking options and being able to walk everywhere. I have one of those city bike passes, so it is nice to have access to bikes pretty much everywhere. I like my gym, though I am a Crossfitter and Crossfit here is way more expensive than it is at home!

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  11. I’d second the notion about the hiking trails. They’re pretty awesome and each has a different thing to offer. The weather is crazy in summer but I don’t find it too bad in the winter. The wind is rough but once you get warmed up, it’s not too bad. Thanks for sharing this.

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  12. Thanks to the plentiful mountains, I’d say hiking is the best way to stay fit for free in Korea! We love hiking but I recently started kickboxing at a gym and it’s been wonderful. While gyms are everywhere in Korea, they are, as you said, very different. Koreans women in particular approach gyms differently as they don’t want to put on muscle while they get healthy. There are some ladies that pay for full kickboxing gym memberships at my gym to walk at a leisurely pace on the treadmill for hours on end. It’s a strange country we live in, but there are many opportunities to get/stay healthy!

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  13. Haha you are so right about the women at the gym! I was going to write something along those lines, but didn’t want to be offensive to anyone who might do the same! That’s all they seem to do at the gym though!
    I’d love to do kickboxing! But I’ve never found a class near me. Sounds great and a fun way to keep in shape!

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  14. Luckily for me, I’ve never been much of one for exercise other than hiking, so Korea has been perfect. My husband joined a gym for 40,000 a month and he loves that they provide the gym clothes so you don’t have to do tons of smelly laundry every week. But I certainly can’t relate to ever wishing a gym was open on Sunday! Haha gross.

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  15. LOL the exercise machines are a joke, or at least the way Koreans “exercise” on them 😉 I hit the gym and although I like my little gym it is expensive… And doesn’t have a squat rack :,(

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