By Jerome Taylor

In an empty park overshadowed by Hong Kong’s cramped apartment blocks, personal trainer Kristen Handford presses record on her phone and begins a workout for clients trying to stay fit at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Alright guys, we’ll get started with just a 10 minute body workout that you can do at home in a small space,” she says at the start of a video which will later be sent to clients.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

It is a scene now being repeated around the globe.

More than 3.4 billion people have been called on or forced by authorities to stay at home, around 44 percent of the world population, according to a count based on an AFP database.

Many are wondering how they can stay healthy during the weeks — and possibly months — of self-isolation that lie ahead.

Hong Kongers, who live in some of the world’s smallest apartments, say it can be done.

“One hundred percent you can still stay fit,” explained Handford, a 33-year-old Canadian mother of one who has lived in Hong Kong the last six years.

“It’s just about being creative.”

The average living space for each Hong Kong resident is just 170 square feet (16 square metres), one of the lowest in the world.

“Trust me, if we can exercise here, you can do it anywhere,” Handford said.

‘Get moving’

Hong Kong only began enforcing social distancing last week.

But the virus crossed over from the Chinese mainland in January and many inhabitants were self-isolating long before the pandemic reached Europe and the United States.

“We’ve been working from home for about seven, eight weeks now,” said Alison Yuen, a 32-year-old in marketing.

“It’s been challenging, but it has really forced us to kind of get creative and innovate.”

Yuen regularly attends Handford’s online classes. But she also checks in with friends on the increasingly popular Zoom video app for quick workout sessions.

“We just pick something very simple, it could be a 10-15 minute workout on YouTube, could be just stretching” she says. “It forces us to kind of get moving.”

Yuen’s house is bigger than the average Hong Kong apartment but the space to exercise is little more than a few square metres which she often has to compete for with her 30 kilo (66 pound) golden labradoodle Whelan.

“He likes to play and wants to be part of the workout,” she jokes.

Marathons and YouTube stars

Fitness buffs have found a host of creative ways to keep up their exercise regimen during lockdowns.

Multiple people around the world — including a man in Hong Kong — have even managed to run marathons inside their homes.

But experts say just a simple 10-20 minute daily workout can help stave off boredom and keep people active.

One global breakout star of the pandemic has been Joe Wicks, a 33-year-old British fitness coach.

Since last week he has been using his YouTube channel to broadcast a daily workout aimed at kids.

“It was mainly in my head a UK thing but it’s gone completely global, 16 million people have viewed it in the past five days,” he told CNN on Sunday.

Throughout his workout, Wicks’ brother speaks to him via phone allowing him to do shoutouts to children who comment under the video and he has vowed to donate all his revenue from the daily broadcasts to Britain’s health service.

Stay in touch

Chaukei Ngai, 40, who now broadcasts online from her YogaUP studio in Hong Kong, says self-isolation doesn’t have to mean the end of coming together in groups.

“We had someone who has been locked down in India who joined us in class this morning as well as some people from the UK, Brazil and Bali,” she told AFP from her now empty studio.

“This is not social distancing, it’s physical distancing.”

She has found that shorter 30 minute sessions were especially popular for those balancing work and family from the kitchen table.

“They have family and kids at home… it’s harder for them to take one hour of quiet space,” she said.

Canadian instructor Handford, who isn’t currently charging for her live broadcasts, said she and many other instructors face a tough future if the pandemic continues.

“I’ll be taking a massive hit financially from this, definitely,” she said.

“We’re kind of in this together. So I’m happy to take a hit if it means that people will move.”

AFP is a global news agency delivering fast, in-depth coverage of the events shaping our world from wars and conflicts to politics, sports, entertainment and the latest breakthroughs in health, science and technology.