Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Recession Stresses Hit Waistline

“Are the lean economic times making us fat? Some recessionary trends suggest that many of us are eating more, exercising less and worrying all the way to the refrigerator. Meanwhile, it's survival of the fittest for some gyms and personal trainers as cash-strapped clients trim spending on health and fitness. Finally, stress generated by predictions of a second Great Depression could be encouraging some to blow their diets and health regimens, experts said. In other words, the recession not only might be bad for our bottom lines, it could be causing blubbery bottoms and bulging bellies as well. ‘I don't think I've ever seen it like this,’ said personal trainer Tony Beam, the owner of Fit-Tone Personal Fitness in Hampden Twp. ‘People's New Year's resolution was to save money and cut back on their appointments,’ he said. ‘I have experienced a drop in the amount of appointments, and I've lost some clients due to the economy. People are scared, and as a small-business owner, I feel that fear, too.’ Spot checks with area fitness centers found that the push for clients has largely become a race to slash membership fees. ‘For us, this is usually our busy time of the year,’ said Chuck Fields, the general manager of Central Penn Health and Fitness in Susquehanna Twp. ‘We're not seeing as many New Year's resolutions as in the past, not near as many,’ he said. ‘I think it's purely a financial thing. People really are making a choice whether they can afford it or not.’ Although Central Penn hasn't seen the usual influx of new customers, it has been able to hold on to core clients. ‘Our expectation was we would see more cancellations,’ Fields said. ‘Thankfully, existing members are coming in and using the facility.’ Carla Gottshall, the corporate sales director for Gold's Gym in Swatara Twp., reported an ‘absolutely great January,’ fueled by a $20-a-month membership fee drive. ‘People are willing to invest in their future, their health and their bodies,’ she said. But if they can get lean for less, gym users are jumping at the chance. Frank and Bob Kindler of Hampden Twp. have built four Planet Fitness franchises in the midstate by charging $10 for basic memberships. It marks a change for the Kindlers, who once owned the West Shore Health Club, which boasted racquetball, basketball and swimming, along with higher rates. ‘We saw what was happening in the business, and we didn't want to be a lonely mom-and-pop operation,’ Frank Kindler said. Mid-morning on a Monday, the Planet Fitness in Hampden Twp. was anything but lonely. Runners raced on treadmills. Strength trainers pumped away on resistance machines. Kassie Digrugilliers, 24, of Marysville, and Heather Hardy, 23, of Lemoyne, were among those in quest of a better body at a bargain price. ‘I have an image in my head that I want to look like, and it's just a little cheaper here,’ Hardy said. Low prices are nice, but you wouldn't get Molly Douglas, 33, and Jennifer Dragt, 36, both of Upper Allen Twp., to sweat here if the gym wasn't clean, inviting and well-equipped. ‘It was a definite factor that it was so cheap, but not the only factor,’ Douglas said. As for all that recession-related stress, try burning it off with some exercise, personal trainer Beam said. ‘It just so happens, fitness is very good to relieve stress,’ he said.”


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