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Fit for the Future

Cutting down on carbohydrates presented a greater challenge, as rice, noodles, and steamed buns had become beloved staple foods for me

By Sam Duckett Updated Sept.1

The Covid-19 pandemic forced all of us to alter the way we live our lives, encompassing everything from work to our social lives and the way we pursued our passions. As China’s zero-Covid policy has now come to an end, I find myself reflecting on how the experience completely transformed my mentality towards my personal health. In 2020, when all the exercise facilities closed down, I realized that if I wanted to keep fit, I couldn’t simply wait for Covid to pass.  

My journey with exercise began at the age of 14, starting with sports such as basketball and soccer. By the time I turned 18, I transitioned to making the gym part of my daily routine.  

However, over time, my mentality shifted from “keeping fit” to “getting pumped” as I focused primarily on weightlifting at the gym. I even adjusted my diet to support this goal. This continued even when I moved to Beijing, where it was common for groups of guys to lift weights after work.  

Then, the pandemic struck, and the gyms closed indefinitely. With no prior experience of living through a global crisis, I had no idea how long the closures would last. However, one thing was certain: I wouldn’t be deterred from my fitness goals. I immediately realized that I needed to make two significant changes: my approach to exercise and my diet.  

Fortunately, the Chinese app Keep proved to be a lifeline during this challenging time. It offered a comprehensive collection of exercise videos, mostly focusing on cardio and conditioning. Additionally, Beijing has a wide selection of free outdoor gyms, offering a sanctuary for me to continue my training. While I didn't utilize most of the equipment, having a dedicated space to workout was a lifesaver.  

Some of my favorite fitness memories have been taking online boxing classes through the Keep app. Even after the pandemic, I decided to continue this training approach by seeking out coaching to refine my form. It opened up a whole new path for me to stay fit and find stress relief – a discovery that was a direct result of the circumstances at the time.  

However, this meant that my approach to fitness would be vastly different from my “get pumped” days. Working towards a leaner physique, I needed to overhaul my diet plan as well. Reducing calorie intake proved relatively easy, thanks to the abundance of vegetable-based cooking ideas in China. However, cutting down on carbohydrates presented a greater challenge, as rice, noodles, and steamed buns had become beloved staple foods for me. Reducing my carbohydrate intake took quite some time, but I slowly but surely managed to make the necessary adjustments.  

This approach sparked a significant personal transformation for me – it helped me look past my physical appearance. I no longer cared that I was a few sizes smaller; what truly mattered was how fantastic I felt every single day. It ignited a desire to push my endurance to new levels and embrace various challenges after the pandemic. I embraced the challenge and relished every opportunity to get involved in mountain walks, weekend badminton sessions and other popular activities in Beijing.  

For the next three years, my routine consisted of running, jump rope sessions, and high-intensity interval training exercises, followed by a balanced meal. By the end of the pandemic, I felt more energetic than ever before. It was at this point I realized I could not go back to the way things were.  

In early 2023, China’s zero-Covid policy was lifted, leaving me with a choice: revert back to my old ways or continue with my newfound approach to staying fit. I chose neither! I decided to maintain my gym membership but focused a large portion of my time on the cardio exercises I had come to enjoy over the past three years. I also incorporated dedicated weight training into each of these sessions. I came to realize that finding a balance between my previous approaches would be the best way to achieve my new fitness goals.  

Reflecting on this experience, I learned a great deal about myself. It served as proof that humans have an incredible capacity to adapt and change in the face of adversity. I fully understand that the changes I experienced may seem trivial compared to more significant challenges of the pandemic, and I am in no way trying to put a positive spin on a very trying time. I simply hope my story can inspire anyone reading this who may also be seeking positive changes in their own lives.