Every month is famous for something. April showers bring May flowers. July is for fireworks. December delivers Santa and Rudolph and Judah Maccabee. And January? January is the month health clubs live for. More people join gyms in January than any other month ... and within 90 days, at least 20 percent to 30 percent of them stop going. Sadder still is that after they go AWOL, millions of dropouts still continue to pay their monthly gym bills. How crazy is that?
And yet, I'd rather mop the sweat off a weight-training bench than undermine your heroic resolution to join a health club this January, or any other month that you're finally ready to shape up. Regular exercise — three to six times a week, at least 30 minutes a session— is the master key to enjoying a healthier, smarter, longer, happier life. It takes work and commitment, but if that is what you truly, deeply want — more energy, less stress, greater strength — the right gym can really deliver.
How do you choose one? Here are some things to consider:
— TRY IT BEFORE YOU BUY IT. Be wary — health clubs vary. A lot! Check out several before you decide. Visit the club around the time you'd be using it, so you'll know how crowded it will be. Does it have enough of the equipment — treadmills, elliptical cross-trainers, stationery bikes — you're likely to use? If you're keen on classes, make sure they're at times that work for you.
A friend of mine who recently joined a gym was lured by the promise of yoga classes. After signing up, she discovered yoga was only offered twice a day, at 6:00 in the morning and 6:00 at night, two times she absolutely couldn't go. Oops.
Other features to take on board: Is there natural light? Does it smell fresh? Does it offer child care? An initial assessment? Personal trainers? Clean towels? A cell-free zone? Do you like the vibe? Trust your instincts. If you feel a gym is creepy or uninviting, keep looking until you find one that puts its toned and muscled arms around you.
— LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. All features being equal, pick the club that is easiest to get to. If it's a big schlep, hard to park or in a nasty neighborhood, you're less likely to go. And showing up, dear reader, day after day, week after week, is the only way your magnificent 2012 resolution will succeed.
— CLEANLINESS COUNTS! Most gyms are germ factories. The little critters are everywhere — on dumbbells, medicine balls, yoga mats. A recent study reported that one of the viruses that causes the common cold could be found on 63 percent of exercise equipment in a gym! You can't count on those spray bottles of anti-bacterial gel to protect you. What can you do? Wash your hands frequently, keep your fingers out of your nose, mouth and eyes, wear flip-flops in the changing area.
— NEGOTIATE. Don't succumb to a health club hard sell. Be bold, stay calm, and ask for a lower rate, whether it's per year or per month. Some chains — the New York Sports Club is one — offer a 30-day trial membership for $30. That's a good deal. See if your club will match it. Another chain offers a 30-day trial membership, but the catch is you have to visit 12 times in the first month to cancel without a penalty, or you're locked into a multi-year membership. Be sure to read the small print, especially as it relates to the cancellation policy.
— DON'T OVERDO IT. Resist the temptation to make up for lost time by overdoing your exercise routine. Pushing yourself too hard is the No. 1 way to injure yourself. Be patient. Stay positive. Listen to your body. If you feel pain, stop. If you feel breathless, slow down. Enjoy your workout. If your time at the gym is spent grunting and groaning, you'll find a reason to quit. Alternate hard and easy workout days to give your body time to recover.
— KEEP A JOURNAL. Write down every visit: what you did, how you felt. It sounds daunting, but it really works to keep you motivated. Every 10-20 visits, treat yourself to a reward. Deep tissue massage? Sweet potato fries?
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! JUST DO IT!
"Those who do not find time to exercise will have to find time for illness." — Earl of Derby
Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, http://marilynnpreston.com and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.