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Fat or fit in new year?

One of the first things Al Forsyth did Thursday morning was get in the car and drive from his Bush Point home to his new health club.

Just beating the expected New Year's rush of overweight, out-of-shape and, in many cases, guilt-ridden pilgrims to health clubs all over the nation, Forsyth was unusual in that he did not show up at Freeland's Island Athletic Club with a particular resolution to keep. Having moved to the island a year ago and away from where he used to work out, Forsyth, 60, finally found the time this week to start a new routine in the new year.

That he was hopping on an eliptical step machine for the first time in a year on Jan. 2 was mere coincidence.

"I'm not a big believer in resolutions," he said. "They set you up to fail."

There is no truer thought in the fitness industry. While promises to get fit in the new year will bring people to health clubs in droves, those promises will not, in most cases, be kept beyond the end of January.

At both of South Whidbey's health clubs, a knee-jerk desire for fitness will bring potentially hundreds new club members, as well as sustaining members, to the weight rooms, aerobics classes and treadmills and stationary bicycles over the next few days. The clubs are where about 3,200 South Whidbey do their workouts throughout the year.

But by early spring, many of those people will be finding excuses to skip out on whatever exercise regimens they may have begun.

Kim Helpenstell, owner of Momentum heath club in Clinton, said it's a problem of unrealistic expectations. At the start of every year, she signs up a number of new members who want to do the impossible, such as lose 20 pounds in a month. When that doesn't happen, they give up on exercise.

"The No. 1 reason people quit is they don't make their goals," she said.

This is not a good thing for new club members, nor for the clubs themselves. A year's worth of regular exercise is better than a program abandonned after a month. And for the clubs, a year's worth of dues is better for the bottom line than having new members drop out early.

Jay Bryant, manager of the Island Athletic Club, said he expects club staff to sign up as many as 150 new members during January. But if this year is like those in the past, many of those people will quit their exercise routines within weeks or a few months of starting.

Both Bryant and Helpenstell are trying to make 2003 different. In addition to running promotions to get people into their clubs, they are making an effort to keep them there. Both are pushing new members to use personal trainers to keep them on a schedule. IAC is also promoting fitness tools -- such as pedometers and body composition tests -- to give members methods other than standing on a scale to guage their progress.

On top of all this, the clubs are encouraging members to vary their routines both in and outside of the club. Getting into a rut can be fatal to a fitness effort, so switching from a nightly swim and sauna to a schedule of yoga and tai-chi classes may be just what is needed.

"The boredom factor is a huge factor," Bryant said.

Fitness is a lifestyle

With Jan. 1 falling on a Wednesday this year, the fitness rush was delayed this week. At both clubs, staff members were getting ready for Monday, the day when holiday vacations are expected to end.

It's also the day many people will begin working off weight gained from a month's worth of holiday eating. Five to 8 pounds is a generally accepted figure in the fitness industry for average holiday weight gain for most people, according to Bryant and Helpenstell. That extra weight is the most common reason most health club members give for needing exercise.

While a good slate of workouts can help, lifestyle changes are more likely to keep weight off long term. IAC will be encouraging members to change their diets and take walks during the day. At Momentum, personal trainer Kelvin Thomas is telling the people he works with that weight loss and fitness come slowly and only with a consistent effort.

"There's no magic pill," he said.

There are some who already know that. Al Forsyth said his goals are modest: Lose some weight and regain his strength and flexibilty. His biggest challenge, he said, will be fitting workouts in with the rest of his life.

"I'll stick to it as long as I can fit it in with work and my social schedule," he said.

Momentum's Helpenstell said this is the secret for anyone who wants to be successful in getting fit.

"It's a lifestyle," she said.

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