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Everybody (Else) Needs to Get Active!

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January is traditionally the health club industry's best month, as it is accompanied by the calendar's least exercise-friendly weather and occurs just after Americans have spent a month gorging on sweets. The desire for club memberships spikes approximately 6.2 days after Americans gasp at their collective reflection in the mirror, with the extra motivation of the New Year's resolution helping get them off their couches and - well, into their cars…but, eventually, onto a treadmill.

Clubs typically help grease the skids by offering special discounts and trial memberships throughout the month, with the appeal grounded in vanity: You look like hell, your clothes no longer fit - and we can help.

This year, at least at the national level, there's a new tack: America's health care costs have skyrocketed, and it's your fault! As part of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association's "Campaign for a Healthier America," the association is (as their press release is headlined) "Calling on All Americans: Get Active & Cut Health Care Costs." Included in this are worthy suggestions for creating a "culture and environment of wellness," including a call on the government to "create tax incentives" and "remove financial barriers" with the goal of promoting healthy lifestyles. What with the club industry's rightward tilt, I'm left wondering whether club entrepreneurs also support the removal, by the government, of financial barriers to affordable health insurance - not to mention whether they support the club industry itself removing these financial barriers. That the health club industry is built on the same for-profit model as the health care industry renders the argument kind of academic. Clubs can remove financial barriers to broader use of health clubs by giving away memberships for free! Sort of like a YMCA … I know. Them's fightin' words.

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Let me note here that I applaud IHRSA's focus on the role of exercise in forming the backbone of preventive health care. I just wonder why it's up to everybody else - medical professionals, insurance companies, schools, employers and government - to provide the incentives. All of these are part of IHRSA's bulleted list, along with individual Americans, who are urged to "take personal responsibility for their health." Health clubs are conspicuously absent from this exhortation to "work together" and "unite" in this national effort to rein in health care costs.

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