Getting Into Shape for the New Year

Glancing at Christmas photos, you can’t believe you look so fat in your holiday outfit. The skirt that won’t button and the uncomfortably tight jeans may push you to a New Year’s resolution: This is the year you will join the health club.

For years I scorned paying money to work-out when work-ing kept me fit. In Holland, I rode my bike everywhere. Years later, hoisting hay bales on our farm was exercise and accomplished something as well. But when I developed arthritis in my knees, I swallowed my distaste for exercise that produced no product and visited the nearest health club.

In the parking lot a man in a red sports car waited for a space near the entrance. Though bulging with muscles, he was reluctant to walk ten extra yards to the door. Inside lithe young women in thong leotards taught over lycra leggings gamboled with young men with shoulders so wide they passed through doors sideways. Metal weights clinking together formed counterpoint to the rock music in the background.

I almost fled, but my desire to walk without pain made me stay. I signed up, and the monthly membership fee deducted from my checking account was my biggest motivation to keep at it. I enjoyed swimming laps in the pool, but I never acclimated to lifting leg weights next to strange men sweating and grunting on the adjacent machines. Since moving to Vancouver, I have found a club with a family atmosphere, and going regularly is easier.

Think carefully before you make a financial commitment at the peak of your New Year’s reforming zeal. “The average attrition rate is 15%, but it’s higher for people who join in January,” says Carolynne Browne, owner of the Landover Athletic Club in Vancouver, Washington. Many clubs charge $40 to $50 a month and require a lengthy commitment. Membership is less at a YMCA or a municipal sports complex, but classes and courts are often extra.

Carolynne advises checking out the club’s policies on illness and absences. “Privately owned clubs can give personalized service,” she says. “We add free months to the term for retirees who go South for the winter and for people recovering from surgery. Many bigger clubs won’t do that.”

She offers additional guidelines for making a wise decision:

1. Beware of life time memberships. No facility can guarantee it will be around forever.

2. Research the club’s reputation. Make sure the staff are certified instructors and trainers, and avoid clubs that change management every few months.

3. Proximity is paramount. If the facility is more than 15 minutes from your home, and not on your way home from work, you won’t use it.

4. Choose surroundings you like. An exercise buff who enjoys meeting like-minded people will want a different club than someone wanting to take her kids to the pool on weekends.

5. Determine whether the program of activities fits your schedule, and find out when childcare is available.

As with any money decision, research your options carefully. Make sure it is something you will use. My knees have improved, so for me the expense is worth it. Someday I may even learn to enjoy it.

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