A fanatical runner jogged the equivalent of an ultra-marathon inside his small apartment as people in virus-hit China desperately try to keep fit while cooped up indoors.
The country is at the centre of an outbreak of a new coronavirus, leaving more than 1,500 dead and sparking global alarm, but it is also in the grip of a health drive because the government is aggressively encouraging people to exercise to fight the disease.
With much of the 1.4 billion population ordered indoors and gyms closed, people are competing to outdo each other in how many bottles of water they can lift, how many push-ups they can do with their children on their backs or how many flights of stairs they can scale in their tower blocks.
But Pan Shancu has easily won the unofficial gold medal, saying he jogged 66 kilometres (41 miles) in a loop at home in six hours, 41 minutes.
He has the data tracker that he says proves it, and the 44-year-old’s feat and a video of him repeatedly circling furniture in his apartment went viral in China.
“I felt a little dizzy at first, but you get used to it after you circle many times,” Pan told AFP by telephone from Hangzhou, near Shanghai.
“Running is like an addiction. If you don’t run for a long time, you get itchy feet.”
On another occasion Pan ran 30 kilometres on the spot in his bathroom and live-streamed it to inspire others who have similarly been confined at home for the last two weeks.
“I am in an online chat group in which people are asking what we want to do most after the epidemic,” said Pan, a massage therapist and dedicated long-distance runner.
“Some people said they want to have a feast. I said that I want to run 100 kilometres outside.”
Running the stairwells
China’s ruling Communist Party has launched a campaign featuring Olympic athletes to demonstrate how people can stay fit while spending endless days stuck inside.
Tables, chairs and even door frames can all be used in one form or another to help exercise, according to one online pamphlet.
Schools are shut and children are not exempt. They have been ordered by education authorities not to simply lounge about playing computer games and fiddling with their phones.
“In addition to letting children help parents do some chores within their ability, they must get creative at home,” government expert Zhao Wenhua told a press conference.
“For example, walking and running on the spot, skipping, push-ups, sit-ups and so on.”
Some people have turned to technology, using apps on their smartphones that show how to work out without equipment and sharing the results with their friends.
Bilibili, a popular video-sharing platform, says views of fitness-related content jumped nearly 50 percent in the period January 23 to February 5 compared to the two weeks before.
Peter Gardner, a 61-year-old Briton hunkered down in the snow-covered northeast city of Tianjin, prefers more traditional methods.
Like hundreds of millions of others, his movements have been severely restricted by the Chinese authorities in an attempt to stop the deadly virus spreading.
Gardner, an operations manager for an American firm, said he is allowed out of his block of flats for only 30 minutes in the daytime to stock up on essentials.
To make up for the lack of exercise, he twice runs up and down the emergency stairwell of his 17-floor apartment tower three times a day.
“It’s good in some ways,” said Gardner, whose family have temporarily left China, leaving him with their two guinea pigs for company.
“I can’t go out for beers and I’ve lost about three-quarters of a kilo,” he said by telephone.
“There are no places to eat, nowhere to go and I’m eating simply, because I can’t buy the stuff I want.”
Rafael Nadal is “confident” he will be 100 percent fit when the Australian Open starts in less than three weeks’ time despite enduring yet another tough battle with injuries over the past few months.
The Spanish world number two had to pull the plug early on his 2018 season and has not played since a knee problem forced him to retire during his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro in September.
He underwent surgery on his ankle to remove an intra-articular loose body in November and only resumed training two weeks ago.
Nadal will dip his toes back into competition at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition in Abu Dhabi, where he faces either Kevin Anderson or Chung Hyeon in his opener on Friday.
“I started two weeks ago and of course doing the things step by step and I think I have time to be ready for Melbourne at my 100 percent,” Nadal told reporters in the UAE capital on Thursday.
“It’s going to be good to have some matches before but I’m confident that I’m going to arrive to Melbourne with the right situation.”
The 32-year-old retired during matches at two of the four Grand Slams in 2018, but still added a record-extending 11th French Open crown to his collection.
He says he remains motivated to launch yet another comeback from injury, despite a career plagued by physical problems.
“After the second part of the year, have been tough last year in terms of injuries but that happens and that’s part of my tennis career too,” he added.
“Just try to stay calm, try to work the right way and when I’m back I know things are not easy, I know at the beginning you always have tough feelings and pains in the body that normally you don’t have.
“But I have experience in all of this and try to be ready for the everyday practices and when (I) arrive (at) the matches I don’t have to ask myself big things at the beginning, just trying to be positive with every improvement and that way normally you get the right point.”
Djokovic enjoying tennis again
Joining Nadal in Abu Dhabi is the man who replaced him at the top of the rankings, Novak Djokovic. The Serb is the reigning Wimbledon and US Open champion and will be looking to win a third major in a row at the Australian Open next month.
Djokovic ended a two-year Grand Slam title drought at Wimbledon in July and has lost just three matches since.
He admits that he lost his motivation during the difficult period that followed the 2016 French Open, where he completed the career Grand Slam but has now found different ways to attain gratification from the sport.
“I feel I’m not prioritising success on the tennis court for the sake of the success only as I used to do that probably up to five years ago,” Djokovic said.
“For me, tennis is more of a platform now for other things and for the values I want to share, and the messages I want to share with the young generation.
“Ultimately a tennis court for me is a place where I get challenged in every possible way emotionally and my character is kind of on the line. I treat that as my own personal school of life.
“Not many places can trigger me in a positive or negative way as a tennis court does.”
Djokovic takes on either Karen Khachanov or Dominic Thiem in Abu Dhabi on Friday and officially kicks off his 2019 season at the Qatar Open in Doha next week.
Common dieting advice urges people to either eat fewer carbohydrates or less fat in order to shed weight. But a study Tuesday found neither approach is better than the other.
Nor is a person’s genetics or insulin metabolism a key factor in whether a diet works for them or not, said the report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The findings could have implications for the $66 billion US weight loss industry, and particularly the latest trend of DNA dieting, which claims to point people to the best diet for their genes.
“We’ve all heard stories of a friend who went on one diet – it worked great – and then another friend tried the same diet, and it didn’t work at all,” said lead author Christopher Gardner, professor of medicine at Stanford University.
“It’s because we’re all very different, and we’re just starting to understand the reasons for this diversity. Maybe we shouldn’t be asking what’s the best diet, but what’s the best diet for whom?”
The study enrolled 609 people – 57 per cent women – aged 18 to 50 and randomly assigned them to either a low-fat or low-carb diet for a year.
At the end, the average weight loss was 13 pounds in both groups.
Some individuals lost far more – up to 60 pounds, while some gained 20. But researchers were unable to find any link between dietary approach and superior weight loss.
After a year, “there was no significant difference in weight change between a healthy low-fat diet vs a healthy low-carbohydrate diet,” said the report.
At the beginning, “participants got part of their genome sequenced, allowing scientists to look for specific gene patterns associated with producing proteins that modify carbohydrate or fat metabolism,” said the report.
They also drank a shot of glucose on an empty stomach so researchers could measure their bodies’ insulin outputs.
“Neither genotype pattern nor baseline insulin secretion was associated with the dietary effects on weight loss,” it said.
What seemed to help people lose weight was following a single strategy: eat less sugar, less refined flour, and as many vegetables and whole foods as possible.
“On both sides, we heard from people who had lost the most weight that we had helped them change their relationship to food, and that now they were more thoughtful about how they ate,” said Gardner.