“Some consumers may be eating at home more often or making do with old clothes, but it seems they won’t easily give up on fitness — or their gym memberships, anyway. People are turning to their health clubs for a sense of community, says Erica Schietinger, spokeswoman for Chelsea Piers Sports Center Health Club in New York City. Schietinger says at Chelsea Piers, members are coming more often and staying longer, partly because some have lost their jobs. ‘Members find comfort in their master swim team or sitting in the café,’ Schietinger says. The club recently hosted an event for members to network and promote their businesses. According to a recent survey by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, a trade group, 180 member clubs said they met or surpassed expectations for club performance as well as revenue and membership in January. The majority of clubs surveyed reported member attendance equal to or surpassing last year’s numbers. IHRSA says clubs are not expecting a ‘statistically significant decrease or increase’ in membership levels this year. Because people are using the gym more, they’re less likely to give up their membership, says IHRSA president Joe Moore. He added: ‘Members equate value with usage.’ Although Schietinger says it’s difficult to directly correlate club usage with employment status, she’s seen members who previously came in once a week now coming into two to three times a week. Curves spokesperson Becky Frusher says the club chain has seen a 22% year-over-year increase in gym usage in January. Health clubs, like many other businesses, are offering deals to attract and retain customers — so even if you are considering cutting out your membership, you may be able to renegotiate lower monthly fees. Consumers are likely to find deals if there are several competing clubs nearby. Bally’s Total Fitness is offering an online special of free enrollment and a $29.99 monthly membership fee, with certain restrictions. (Bally’s filed for bankruptcy but says membership isn’t affected.) Town Sports International, which operates Boston Sports Clubs, Washington Sports Clubs and others is offering a $39 initiation fee with a one-year membership with certain restrictions; current members who successfully refer a friend are eligible for a $50 credit toward member fees. Curves, the women-only chain of gyms, will waive initiation fees for any new member that brings a bag of non-perishable groceries to benefit local food banks (the offer is valid through March 28). In addition to reducing stress and anxiety, regular gym attendance can lower health-care costs in the long run. A study by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota found that people who visited gym at least eight times a month for nine months a year or more had claims costs 17.8% lower than those of non-participants, after adjusting for health history. Frequent gym users went to the emergency room at a rate 38.7% lower than that for non-exercisers and 41.4% lower hospital admission rates, according to the study, which was issued in May 2007.
Working out may be good for your bottom line and help you avoid taking extra sick days. ‘Our members realize they need to stay healthy in order to work,’ says Curves’ Frusher.”