To Join, or Not to Join (A Gym)

January is the month most people reconsider their habits: eat healthier, drink less, and exercise more. Here are 8 reasons why a gym membership might be a good idea.

As much as we’d like to believe that chocolate cake and ice cream are the elixirs for a long and healthy life, we know that’s not the case. We also know that regular exercise is one of the surest paths to a longer and healthier life.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise every week — but less than half of all Americans do so. And for the millions of people who would like to do better, this is often the time of year to consider joining a gym. We can all find many excuses for not getting our bodies in motion, but there’s an equally compelling list of reasons why we should do so.

Whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, tone up, or improve your overall health, new year’s resolutions are the No. 1 reason people of all fitness levels pony up the bucks and decide to join a conveniently located gym. Here are eight reasons why a gym membership is a really good idea, starting with the most obvious one.

  1. Get Healthy.  A gym encourages you to do a balanced program that includes both aerobic and strength training exercises. These promote heart health and weight loss, help prevent osteoporosis, lower blood pressure, and improve muscle strength, balance and flexibility. If weight loss is a primary goal, consider the mantra of a friend who tells me, “nothing tastes as good as being fit feels.”
  2. Find Support and Motivation.  Some people really enjoy exercise; for others, it’s a chore. If you fall into that latter group, being surrounded by other people in the same boat can provide the incentive you need to make exercise part of your routine. Your initial intention might be to drag yourself to the gym twice a week, but once you find your rhythm, you may go more regularly, which will help make your goals more attainable. You might also find there are fewer distractions – kids, the computer, the refrigerator – by working out at a gym rather than at home.
  3. Get Stress Relief.  According to the Mayo Clinic, virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever — whether you’re a serious athlete or an out-of-shape wannabe. Physical activity boosts the brain’s production of endorphins, which makes us feel better physically and have a brighter emotional outlook. Exercise reduces tension in the body and mind, which can improve your mood and the quality of your sleep. For many people, the gym becomes a sanctuary where you can turn off the phone and forget all the demands at work or in your personal life.
  4. Learn From the Pros.  Many gyms now have professional trainers on staff — often people with college degrees in sports science or other related fields, along with personal training certificates. They are trained to design exercise programs that fit your individual needs in a fun and safe way, showing you proper exercise techniques so that you don’t hurt yourself and get the most out of each exercise routine.
  5. Sample the Variety.  A big advantage of a gym over your guest room/home gym is the vast array of weights, machines, exercise classes, and other elements. This allows you to try new exercise equipment and vary your routine. If you do the same workout day in and day out, your body builds muscle memory, and your gains are incrementally decreased.
  6. Learn From Each Other.  Inevitably you’ll see the people around you doing exercises that are new to you and may look sort of fun. You can certainly borrow and learn from others, but with this caveat: make sure you understand the proper technique so that you don’t injure yourself. Just because someone else is doing something that looks interesting doesn’t mean that they know what they’re doing. On the other hand, most people are happy to share the knowledge they’ve acquired. Ask them what that exercise is meant to accomplish and the proper form to do it right.
  7. Sweat Together.  Many people find exercise classes to be the most efficient and fun way to get a full-body workout. You can do everything from A-to-Z: Aqua Arthritis (where there’s a pool) to Zumba, as well as pilates, kickboxing, yoga, and more. There’s usually a very energetic leader to help provide you with some extra energy and motivation. Many people do have to get over the hump initially of being the class newbie, where it seems like you’re the only one who doesn’t know the proper steps or positions or the only senior in a class with a dozen millennials. Don’t worry, though. They are concentrating on their form and not watching yours. Another advantage of a gym is social interaction, especially when you feel cooped up at home.
  8. Check out the Holiday Deals.  January is often the best time to join a gym because many offer steep discounts and incentives to join now. Even though the fitness industry was one of the hardest hit sectors during the first year or so of the COVID-19 pandemic, gym memberships have bounced back. According to industry statistics, there were 55.4 million active gym users in the U.S. last year. Most gyms offer a trial day or week to test it before signing up for a membership. Most gyms also offer a 30-day period during which you can change your mind and get out of the contract, but make sure you get that in writing.

Get Going!

If you’re serious about losing weight and getting in better shape, there’s no better time to start than right now. The longer you put it off, the more excuses you’ll come up with. And don’t get frustrated that the gains you’re looking for don’t happen overnight. It usually takes three to six months, so stick with it.

If you decide to take the plunge and join a gym, consider consulting with your doctor to ensure that specific exercise programs will not do more harm than good. And don’t try to keep up on the first day with the very buff-looking person working out nearby. Go slow at the start to avoid injuries, which can discourage you from returning to the gym next week.

Clearly, there are plenty of good reasons to join a gym. There are also just as many reasons not to do so. We’ll explore those reasons next week.

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