Live Right Live Well: Health & Fitness
Picking a Gym
By Michael Castleman for Live Right Live Well
If you’re thinking of starting the new year by joining a health club, you’re in good company: "Currently, 41.5 million Americans belong to gyms or health clubs, and gyms get their biggest spike in enrollment around the New Year," says Kara Thompson, a spokesperson for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) in Boston. Resolving to exercise is especially important if you have heartburn, since extra pounds and excess stress can aggravate symptoms, and exercise can help with both.
Unfortunately, some people don't stick with their gym -- and wind up wasting money. To increase your chances of reaching your goals, it's important to pick a health club that's right for you:
1. Is it conveniently located? "Convenience is crucial," Thompson says. Look for a health club that's close to where you live or work. You're more likely to visit a slightly funky gym two blocks from your home than a palatial facility a half-hour away.
2. Do the hours work for you? Joining a gym won't do you any good if it's closed when you're most likely to work out. The gym should fit your schedule, not vice versa.
3. Does it offer the activities you want? Treadmills, cardio classes, free weights, racquet sports, swimming, yoga -- the list of possibilities is extensive. If you aren't sure what you want, think back to the activities you enjoyed as a child and look for a health club that offers them or something similar.
4. Does it offer the support you need? More than 90 percent of health clubs have personal trainers, according to IHRSA. About 75 percent offer aerobics classes. But only half offer child care and nutrition/weight management counseling. What's important to you?
5. Do the trainers have credentials? "Check to make sure they do," says Leonard Kravitz, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of New Mexico. "Many clubs are lax on trainers' professional experience."
6. How's the vibe? "It's important to feel comfortable in your club," Thompson says. Does it feel too cramped? Are the gym members people you'd feel comfortable working out with?
7. Is it mobbed? Most health clubs are busiest from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. Check out the facility during the hours you're most likely to go.
8. Are the bathrooms clean and accommodating? You may not be able to judge the quality of the exercise equipment, but you can judge the bathrooms.
9. How's the staff? Gym employees are always friendly and helpful to prospective new members. But what about after you join? Ask people around the club what they think.
10. Does it offer free or discounted tryouts? If so, take advantage of this. Try some classes. Check out the locker room and other amenities.
11. Is there a New Year's discount? Some clubs offer them, Thompson says.
12. What's the initiation cost and monthly fee? It costs to join and it costs to maintain membership. If you're not sure you'll stick with it, you're probably better off looking for a lower initiation fee, even if the monthly payments are higher. But if you know you'll go regularly, you might save money with a higher initiation fee and low monthly payments.
13. What does your payment cover? Is the fee all-inclusive, or does a locker, towels, or child care cost extra?
14. What are the contract details? Are your costs locked in for a specific period and for how long? If you cancel your membership, can you get a partial refund on your initiation fee?
15. Finally, do you really need a gym? Health club membership does not guarantee results. If you don't think a gym is your thing, you might be better off simply taking long walks or bike rides, or investing in a home rowing machine, says Kravitz. But if you find one close to where you live or work that offers what you want, when you want it, at a price you can afford, then a gym may be just what the doctor ordered. Happy New Year!
Michael Castleman has been called "one of the nation's leading health writers" (Library Journal). He is the author of 11 consumer health books and more than 1,500 health articles for magazines and the Web. Michael is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.
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