Monday, October 20, 2008

Staying Healthy in a Sick Economy

“On Wall Street, when the going gets tough, will the tough get yoga mats? Adding classes in yoga, meditation and other so-called mind-body regimens is just one way fitness professionals in the financial district are responding to recent economic uncertainties roiling their corporate clientele. Some are also offering shorter, cheaper personal training sessions and, in at least one health club, quiet discounts for members who lose their jobs. Amid layoffs, concerns about staying buff could seem trivial. (Imagine the headline ‘World Markets Near Collapse: Muscle Tone Under Threat.’) Yet, businesspeople themselves wonder how a perilous financial climate will affect their physical fitness — and if exercise could help them weather hard times. Some struggle to squeeze in any workouts at all. But others, like Amy Sturtevant, an investment director for Oppenheimer & Company in Washington, find themselves doubling down on conditioning for relief. ‘Professionals are doing their best not to panic, but I know a lot of professionals who are panicking’ about the markets, she said. ‘The only way to get away from it is to have some kind of outlet.’ Ms. Sturtevant, a mother of four, is training for her fourth marathon. With brokerage clients needing more hand-holding, she said, she stints on sleep rather than skip her 5 a.m. daily boot camp and 20-mile weekend runs. According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, there are 41.5 million health club members in the United States. To keep them on the roster, clubs may be willing to bargain. Most customers who quit the Telos Fitness Center in Dallas, for example, must pay to rejoin. But, for suddenly strapped longtime members, ‘I’ll put a note in their file and we’ll let them pick up their membership without any fees,’ said Clarisa Duran, the center’s sales and marketing director. For Plus One, which operates in-house fitness centers, corporate accounts are the issue; until recently, its major accounts included the investment banks Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Though still operating in all of those except Bear Stearns (which closed in March), the company now must look to its recent expansion in other regions and industries for growth, said Tom Maraday, the senior vice president. (Google is one new client.) ‘We’re a little experienced with stress because we went through 9/11 down here,’ said Grace DeSimone, Plus One’s national director of group fitness. When disaster strikes, she noted, demand for yoga goes up, and on-site gyms exert a special pull: ‘People come and they want someone to talk to — it’s like Cheers.’ Fitness matters more than ever if you’re laid off, career counselors advise, not just for health, but to network and stay positive. ‘The last thing you want is to gain 20 pounds during a job search,’ said Dr. Jan Cannon, author of ‘Finding a Job in a Slow Economy.’ ‘That just compounds that sense of, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”

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