2017-01-11 05:55:59  + video 

Stretching, running, practicing tai chi, cranking out pull-ups, and waltzing in pairs, hundreds of early risers completed their workout routines in Beijing’s Temple of Heaven Park despite a heavy blanket of smog on the morning of Jan. 7.

In 2016, northern China registered historic smog levels, with a 10-day streak of severe air pollution hitting the capital city. While many stayed inside for days on end out of fear for their well-being, others stepped boldly into the noxious atmosphere to get their morning dose of exercise.

Sixth Tone speaks to Beijingers about smog in this winter. By Han Meng and Tang Xiaolan/Sixth Tone

“My first priority is that I need to guarantee my health,” explained Xie Shuncai, 69. “I still need to stretch, move about, dance, and work on my physique, even if there is a haze. There’s no way to protect my body [from smog] in these circumstances.”

Some — but not all — of the parkgoers wore masks. Wu Baishun, 60, speaking through a pollution mask, openly doubted the benefits of the protection measure. “I am not sure whether this kind of mask works or not,” he said. “There are so many kinds for sale online.”

Millions of netizens have taken to the web to learn how to protect themselves and their families from smoggy conditions. Online message boards and forums abound with discussions about the efficacy of this mask or that air purifier. Yet some residents are still either unaware of the information available to them or remain in comfortable denial.

“We still do not know the main causes of smog,” says Wu. He’s been coming to the park to do morning calisthenics for years. “Even with all the programs on air pollution, for me, the reasons are still mysterious.”

For the first week of 2017, Beijing’s air quality index stayed over 200 — four times the government’s recommended limit. But staying indoors is simply unimaginable to some, who would rather get on with their lives.

“If I stayed inside for three days, I would get so sad,” a woman briskly walking through the park told Sixth Tone. “It’s better for me to be in the park, doing some exercises in the smog.” 

(Header image: An elderly man wearing a mask exercises at a park in Beijing on December 20, 2016. Wang Zhao/AFP/VCG)