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Sanitization is Key, During and After Gym Work Out

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

(CBS) You go to the gym to get in shape. But if you aren’t careful, that trip to the fitness club could be hazardous to your health.

“Early Show” Consumer Correspondent Susan Koeppen notes that more than 45 million Americans belong to health clubs.

She said, “That adds up to a lot of dirt and sweat, and as we found out — a lot of germs. They say no pain no gain, but when you go to your local gym you want to get fit not infected.”

And all those weights, bikes and barbells can be loaded with germs.

Shelby Hoff, of Naperville, Ill., knows. She picked up methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) at her local gym.

Hoff told CBS News, “I never thought that working out could cause a life-threatening infection. … At one my point my arm got so big, my skin burst and shed like a snake.”

So could a trip to the gym put you at risk? Koeppen and her team wanted to find out what was lurking on gym equipment — so we swabbed surfaces at four major gym chains in New York City.

They sent their samples to Sanipure, a Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture certified lab.

Ron Schnitzer, the lab director, said of the samples, “We had astronomical total bacteria counts in the many millions on just about every surface examined.”

Schnitzer says the tests also found E. coli. The highest numbers came from a mat at one gym and a shower at another.

Schnitzer says at every location, Koeppen’s team found pseudomonas, which can cause a nasty rash. The highest concentration was in a shower.

But Schnitzer says perhaps the most disturbing finding was the staph aureus detected on a locker room bench. He says that’s an indicator some people could be at risk for contracting MRSA.

Schnitzer said, “We don’t want to see staph aureus because that’s an infection.”

The National Athletic Trainers Association just announced new guidelines for preventing skin diseases at gyms, including using new towels for each wipe down and cleaning equipment before and after every use.

And gyms across the country are moving away from the spray bottle with a rag. At a gym in Pittsburgh members are now offered paper towels, and encouraged to use hand sanitizer.

Hoff has healed but still suffers from occasional numbness in her hand.

She says, “There are things out there that you can’t see that can harm you and I want people to be able to prevent anything like that from happening to them.”

The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association told “The Early Show” maintaining a clean facility and protecting members is a top priority, adding, “It is important for clubs to educate their members about simple ways to increase cleanliness.”

To guard against germs, Koeppen added gym patrons should also wash their hands before and after working out with anti-bacterial soap, and also shower with anti-bacterial soap. Additionally, she said people should not only wash their gym clothes, but also their gym bag.

For more information on MRSA, go to MRSA Survivors.org.

Source (article): CBS

Be Wary of Gym Germs

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

When you go to the gym, do you wash your hands before and after using the equipment? Bring your own regularly cleaned mat for floor exercises? Shower with antibacterial soap and put on clean clothes immediately after your workout? Use only your own towels, razors, bar soap, water bottles?

If you answered “no” to any of the above, you could wind up with one of the many skin infections that can spread like wildfire in athletic settings. In June, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, known as N.A.T.A., issued a position paper on the causes, prevention and treatment of skin diseases in athletes that could just as well apply to anyone who works out in a communal setting, be it a school, commercial gym or Y.

The authors pointed out that “skin infections in athletes are extremely common” and account for more than half the outbreaks of infectious diseases that occur among participants in competitive sports. And if you think skin problems are minor, consider what happened to Kyle Frey, a 21-year-old junior and competitive wrestler at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Mr. Frey noticed a pimple on his arm last winter but thought little of it. He competed in a match on a Saturday, but by the next morning the pimple had grown to the size of his biceps and had become very painful.

His athletic trainer sent him straight to the emergency room, where the lesion was lanced and cultured. Two days later, he learned he had MRSA, the potentially deadly staphylococcus infection that is resistant to most antibiotics.

Mr. Frey spent five days in the hospital, where the lesion was surgically cleaned and stitched and treated with antibiotics that cleared the infection. He said in an interview that he does not know how he acquired MRSA: “The wrestling mat might have been contaminated, or I wrestled with someone who had the infection.”

If it could happen to Mr. Frey, who said he has always been health-conscious in the gym and careful about not sharing his belongings, it could happen to you.

The Risks

Recreational athletes as well as participants in organized sports are prone to fungal, viral and bacterial skin infections. Sweat, abrasion and direct or indirect contact with the lesions and secretions of others combine to make every athlete’s skin vulnerable to a host of problems. While MRSA may be the most serious skin infection, athlete’s foot, jock itch, boils, impetigo, herpes simplex and ringworm, among others, are not exactly fun or attractive.

Athletes who are infected should be kept from competing in matches for a week or more until treatment renders them noninfectious. The authors of the trainers’ study warned against simply covering infections like herpes and active bacterial lesions in order to return to competition.

Likewise, people like you and me who work out at a facility or swim in a public pool should stay away until cleared by a doctor who is well versed in skin diseases.

Steven M. Zinder, a trainer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chief author of the new paper, said in an interview that these recommendations are not esoteric.

“It’s what we all learned — or should have learned — in sixth-grade health class,” he said. “It’s all common sense. You need to keep yourself and your equipment clean. You never know who last used the equipment in a gym. It can be a great breeding ground for these bugs, some of which are pretty nasty.”

The report, published in the August issue of The Journal of Athletic Training, stated, “Athletes must shower after every practice and game with an antibacterial soap and water over the entire body.”

Dr. Zinder noted that after a workout, women tend not to shower at the facility, while men, who are more likely to shower, often fail to cleanse their entire bodies, including their feet. Well-equipped facilities should provide antibacterial liquid soap.

“You should be showering at the gym and putting on clean clothes that are kept separate from the dirty ones,” he said. In fact, he added, it’s best to have two bags, one only for clean clothes, and to wash the dirty-clothes bag now and then.

Assume Exposure

Jack Foley, athletic trainer and director of sports medicine at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., and co-author of the report, said athletes should always assume they are exposed to skin infections.

At any given time, he said in an interview, one person in three in the United States suffers from a skin disease that can be spread to others, even while in the incubation stage.

The report noted that there had been “an alarming increase in the prevalence of MRSA” in the noses of both healthy children and adults. Thus, sneezing into one’s hand or blowing one’s nose without washing with an antibacterial cleanser afterward may spread these dangerous bacteria to others.

While hand hygiene is most important over all , avoiding fungal infections requires a daily change of athletic socks and underwear; carefully drying the armpits and groin and between toes (perhaps blow-drying the feet on low heat); and using foot powder. Shower shoes can help prevent infection as long as they don’t keep you from soaping your feet.

A viral infection called molluscum contagiosum may not be on the popular tongue, but it is commonly seen in young children and , spread through skin-to-skin contact, is not uncommon among athletes, including swimmers, cross-country runners and wrestlers, the report stated.

Prevention of this highly contagious infection requires “meticulous hygiene” after contact with secretions from other athletes through benches, towels and mats.

If you plan to work out in a gym or use a locker room, Mr. Foley suggested that before choosing a facility, you quiz the management about the cleaning agents used (they should be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency) and daily cleaning schedule for all surfaces and equipment. If exercise mats are not cleaned between classes, he suggested bringing your own. Antibacterial wipes or spray bottles should be provided and used by everyone to clean equipment after a workout.

Source (article): NYTIMES

Source (pictures): TRAINING PEAKS, SCARFPHOTO, ABCNEWS

Protect Yourself from Swine at the Gym!

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

All the scary news flying around about swine flu got us wondering: Are we safe from these germs at the gym? Never fear, an answer is here, courtesy of infectious disease expert, Mark Wilson, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health: “Risk in a gym should be no greater than in any other group context of similar size and interaction,” he says of the influenza virus (aka: H1N1). “Indeed, it might be less in gyms because people who are feeling ill probably won’t want to exercise and will stay home!” Make your session even safer with a few simple strategies:

Four smart steps to stay germ-free at the gym–no mask required!

A Clean off the equipment: The treadmill panel, elliptical handles, strength machine grips, dumbbells, mats, there’s no shortage of surfaces that someone could have unintentionally infected by sneezing or coughing on it. Prevent picking up those germs by wiping off and squirting any area you’ll touch with one of the disinfectant sprays the gym should have handy on the floor.

Wash hands before, and after, your workout: Viruses like H1N1 are introduced into your body when you rub your eyes, nose or mouth, so keep hands as clean as possible to cut your risk of infection. Scrubbing with liquid soap is best–and temperature doesn’t matter, but time does: rub hands under running water for at least 20 seconds (hum “Happy Birthday” twice if you don’t like counting!). To be extra-safe, tote a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer like Purell to the gym along with your water and use liberally.

Don’t skip the shower: “For many infectious diseases, the one hygienic factor that seems most protective is showering,” adds Wilson’s colleague, Professor Jim Koopman. Microbes that get on your skin, in many different ways, can get washed off by showers.” Still fret about athlete’s foot? Get over it says Koopman: “You’re more likely to get organisms off your skin that you have picked up in the gym by showering than you are to pick up an organism in the shower.”

Keep your distance in class: “People can be infectious a day or so before showing symptoms, so it can be difficult to tell if they’re ill,” says Wilson. To keep contamination free, remain far enough away from fellow dancers or bootcampers that droplets from a surprise sneeze or cough that they may let loose can’t hit you.

Source (article): SELFMAGAZINE

Source (picture): BLOGS.REUTERS

Germs…a Gym’s Best Friend

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Americans hit the gym in search of bigger arms, massive chests and smaller waists, but many don’t know that gyms are hotbeds for germs.

ABC News conducted a test to find out just how many germs people could encounter when working out.

Dr. Philip Tierno, a microbiologist, said that the large number of people, exposed skin, and sweat present at gyms could be perfect for spreading infections.

“You’re not using that one machine exclusively for yourself,” Tierno said. “You’re leaving that machine, and someone else follows you and your germs that you leave behind. Eighty percent of all infectious disease is transmitted by contact.”

Tierno said that if a sick person used a machine, the person who used it next and then touched their eyes or mouth could get sick.

ABC News staffers took swabs to almost every piece of gym equipment they used and brought the samples to Tierno’s lab at New York University Hospital.

Tierno found the germs staph aureus, klebsiella, enterobacter and E. coli, which can cause various ailments.

Risky Machines

Tierno said the highest risk areas at the gym were machines used by “multiple people in quick sequence, such as dumbbells, seats where people may bike, or where people may sit down to lift weights.”

For example, on a lateral pull-down machine, ABC News found bacillus, which comes from the soil.

It most likely came from someone’s shoes. On an exercise bike, ABC News found sarcinia, candida specie, staphylococcus epi and diptheroids.

The worst place of all was the shower floor.

“Unfortunately, germs do survive in the shower, on walls, and on the floor,” Tierno said. “I found it in hordes — unbelievable quantities. We use the word ‘innumerable.’ Innumerable.”

According to Tierno, E. coli and many of the other germs found by ABC News won’t necessarily make you sick.

“You wear your little slippers, and you’re OK,” Tierno said. “But just as easily as those nonpathogenic germs touch those surfaces, we can have more pathogenic forms touch them. That’s the point.”

Source (article): ABCNEWS

Source (picture): HEALTH-NEWS-BLOG

Gym Etiqutte…How to NOT Be a Gym Diva

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Heading to the gym to blow off some steam? Good idea, as long as you don’t take out your stress on everyone around you.

It’s likely that anyone who’s spent time at a health club has seen some bad behavior, including the equipment hogs, the slobs who leave cardio machines dripping with sweat and the muscle men who grunt loudly as they lift oh-so-heavy weights that they have no intention of putting away.

But these are just a few of the ways that exercisers can be rude and obnoxious at the gym, fitness instructors say. Sometimes, things get downright nasty.

“I had to break up a cat fight,” says Peggy Gregor, group exercise director at Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness in Bethel Park, Pa.

It happened after a woman new to an ongoing fitness class took the spot on the floor that another attendee regularly claimed. A verbal argument ensued and quickly turned physical.

A yoga instructor in New York says a participant in her class let loose on the whole group — after she took a call on her cell phone.

‘I can do whatever I want’
She “rummaged for a good two minutes in her bag in the middle of class for her techno-blaring phone, then screamed into her cell phone at her boyfriend not to call her during yoga class, while we were all staring at her from our down dogs,” says Sadie Nardini, owner of the new Fierce Club yoga studio in Manhattan. When she got off the phone, the woman snarkily shouted back to the astonished group, “Sorry, I had to tell him not to call me during class!”

Nardini says that when she took her aside after class to talk about the diva behavior, the woman was offended, saying, “Well, I paid for this class. I can do whatever I want.”

The stress of the times could be one factor fueling this type of bad behavior, says Nancy Lerner, a psychologist in northern New Jersey. “What underlies anger is anxiety and fear,” she says. “There are a lot of angry people out there. The gym is another place for them to be pushy.” While exercise can be a great stress-reliever and mood-booster, some people’s behavior might be worse if sports or other forms of physical activity bring out aggressive tendencies, she says.

Lerner herself is currently involved in a dispute with another woman at her co-op gym who refuses to turn down the volume on the TV. The woman blasts “Frasier” reruns — refusing to let go of the remote control — while Lerner is trying to read on the treadmill.

“I asked her to lower the sound and she told me that I would have to get some noise-canceling earphones,” says Lerner. “I plan to attend the next board meeting and strongly suggest closed captioning on the TVs when others are working out.”

While stress may underlie some bad gym behavior, it’s a poor excuse nonetheless, says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and the owner of the Protocol School of Texas in San Antonio, which specializes in corporate etiquette training. “Just because you’re more stressed doesn’t give you a free pass to be rude. We’re all stressed.”

Oftentimes, the way people behave at the gym is similar to their behavior outside of the gym, says Gottsman. So the person who’s rude at the gym is likely to be one of the people cutting in line at the coffee shop or screaming at a kid’s soccer coach.

As Nardini, the yoga instructor, puts it, many of the rude participants she sees seem to lack an “etiquette gene.” Others just want to be noticed. “They want the audience,” she says. “They don’t want to be a participant. They want to be the star.”

One bad apple …
Overall, most gym-goers don’t bother other exercisers too much. But even one bad apple can ruin everyone else’s workouts, says Gregor. The trouble-makers are enough of a problem that she recently wrote an advice article for fitness instructors on how to deal with them.

In the article, titled “Pruning the Prima Donna Participant” and published in a trade magazine called the IDEA Fitness Journal, Gregor lists some of the more common diva types in group fitness classes. Among them: “Chatty Cathies,” those who show up late and make a grand — and disruptive — entrance; “spotters,” the ones who insist on having the same place in class each week (so they can look at themselves in the mirror); and “soloists,” those who choose to do their own routine rather than following the program (usually, Gregor says, because they want the attention).

Elsewhere in the gym, Gregor and other fitness professionals note, problems also can include hygiene-challenged people who skip deodorant or wear smelly workout clothes; those who douse themselves in perfume or cologne and strut around trying to make a love connection; and those who don’t just grunt when they lift weights but scream.

If they aren’t causing an all-out ruckus, all of these behaviors can be, at the very least, highly annoying.

Lethal hands, hazardous heels
Nicholus Odem, 43, of Chandler, Ariz., couldn’t believe what he saw another gym member do in the locker room. “He left a stall in the men’s room and headed straight for the gym without washing his hands,” says Odem, noting that this man also tends to wear the same old gym clothes day after day.

“He completed his full workout going from machine to machine,” says Odem. “Since then I have an industrial size bottle of hand sanitizer in my car … I bathe my hands in sanitizer after I leave the gym.” Jay Averill, 32, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is still troubled by something he witnessed at his gym a couple years ago.

“The inappropriate behavior was actually a part of a workout routine of a middle-aged, skinny fellow who used to frequent the gym I go to,” says Averill. “His routine focused on pelvic thrusts. He would do them standing up, lying on his back, on his side, and yes … he’d lie on his stomach and do pelvic thrusts. He’d do them with weights, on benches and on the sit-up mats, all the while not even showing any sign that what he was doing may look a little odd. To top it all off, he would always wear tights.”

The man’s actions were so extreme that Averill just couldn’t focus on his workout. “It’s really hard to do the military press while a grown man is making love to a bench beside you, although I wouldn’t describe it as love so much,” he says. “It’s really hard not to look, and it’s even harder not to laugh out loud.”

Also in the absurd-and-annoying category, Nardini had one participant who came to yoga class in 8-inch stilettos, a skimpy leotard, fishnet stockings, legwarmers and a white fur coat. “She’d come in dressed like an exotic dancer, which I later found out she was.”

Nardini warned her against doing yoga in heels, but the woman insisted on it, saying it was practice for her work. “She poked so many holes in the mat that we had to charge her for it,” says Nardini. “It looked like Swiss cheese when she was done.”

Among other disruptions Nardini has seen in her class, there’s the man who would “breathe like Darth Vader” rather than practicing typical yoga breaths and another guy who plopped himself down in the middle of the room and did headstands and other moves of his own choosing, regardless of what she was teaching.

Dealing with divas, dolts
So how should you deal with these divas and dolts at the gym? If someone is hogging the triceps press, you could politely ask if you could take turns. Or if they’ve left huge weight plates on the leg machine, you could ask the person to please remove them.

But Gregor and other instructors generally recommend speaking to a gym employee about bigger complaints. Taking matters into your own hands can breed animosity among members, sometimes even causing brawls.

They say good fitness professionals stay on top of bad behavior and nip it in the bud when it starts. They talk to the offender, which usually goes a long way. In some cases, they may need to give warnings and even revoke memberships if the behavior doesn’t improve.

One instructor has some unconventional ways of reprimanding naughty exercisers. In what he’s dubbed “flipping the bird,” he throws a stuffed bird at offenders, a sign that they have to go to the corner and do the day’s punishment — such as 30 push-ups or 20 mountain climbers.

“When someone talks too much, slacks off, drops a weight or anything I or the group may deem undesirable, I flip them the bird,” says Bobby Kelly, owner of the Results Only gym in Phoenix.

“The person must immediately perform the bird punishment or I flip them the bird again,” he says. “It makes people laugh and it gets my point across.”

When members are particularly obnoxious, Kelly has another form of punishment: the undesirable T-shirt, which reads “I am the problem child.”

“If they’re really bugging me, they have to wear it for the rest of class,” he says.

Kelly insists it’s all in good humor and “there’s absolutely nothing mean-spirited about it.”

Sometimes he even pokes fun at himself, wearing a T-shirt that reads “EOA”

Source: MSNBC

Muscle & Fitness Aims to Pack a Punch in India

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Fitness enthusiasts will soon have help at hand. All those body-building tips they yearn for will be available in a monthly package. Muscle & Fitness, a US monthly magazine on body building and fitness, is set to hit the stands this summer. Its publisher, American Media Inc, has secured the magazine’s title rights from a local publisher who had been printing the magazine without permission.

Arnold Schwarzenneger, the Hollywood hunk, had worked with the magazine as its Editor-in-Chief for 7 years. Schwarzenneger was groomed by Joe Weider, the magazine’s founder, over 35 years ago.

The lifestyle of sports and film celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, Evander Holyfield, Dwyane Johnson is frequently featured in the magazine. In India, it has Bollwood stars Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan on its advisory board.

Muscle & Fitness is priced at $5 a issue in the US. Its promoters are also into health-related allied business like sports nutritional products, high-end protein drinks etc. In India, the magazine will be published by Health is Wealth Media Private Ltd, the Indian arm of its US publisher.

“We have managed to secure the title registration for Muscle & Fitness after a two-year legal battle with a local publisher. The publisher had been bringing out the magazine illegally after adding an extra ‘S’ to Muscle and registering the title with the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI),” said Raj Makhija, CEO, Health is Wealth.

“We were confident that we will publish the magazine. We had started working with celebrities, guiding them on their muscular and fitness needs. We worked with John Abraham for Dostana for three months in Miami…our protein and health drinks are used by leading cricketers. We may bring in foreign investment of up to $1 million over five years. Initially, our target is a monthly circulation of about 50,000,” added Makhija.

But with recession eating away the advertising revenues to magazines, will the venture survive? Makhija said 50 per cent of the content for the Indian edition will be produced locally to ensure relevant content and possible local advertisements. “This is a specialised magazine for people who are already into fitness and for those aspiring to take fitness religiously. It will have specialised advertising only, related to health and fitness domain, sports, and sporting events…this coupled with subscription by fitness clubs and gymnasiums should work in our favour,” he added.

Either Arnold Schwarzenneger or Sylvester Stallone is expected to come to India for the launch. sometime in July-August. The magazine will be priced at Rs 100.

Over 2-dozen foreign magazines are unable to enter India, despite getting all other necessary government clearances because their titles have been already registered with the RNI by local publishers.

SOURCE: BUSINESS STANDARD

Price-Cut For Gyms

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Now’s a good time to exercise frugality and check out the many deals available. Strike up the nerve to ask for extras. Fitness centers are slashing fees for current and new members, and even former members, for 2009.

Lapsed members of the upscale SportsClub/LA (thesportsclubla.com) were recently invited to return with no need to pay the one-time initiation fee, which can be at least $600, and no membership dues for two months, a savings for some of at least $330.

Less high-end clubs are also offering deals. Among them:

* A two-week free guest pass at Bally Total Fitness (ballyfitness.com), which recently filed for bankruptcy reorganization but says it plans to continue operations;

* One month free, then 50% off the monthly membership fee, through March 6 at Curves (curves.com);

* No enrollment fee at Gold’s Gym (goldsgym.com);

* A 30-day money-back guarantee at L.A. Boxing (laboxing.com).

“Gyms realize these are tough economic times, for themselves as well as their members,” says Joe Moore, chief executive of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Assn., a fitness trade group.

Even independent gyms are offering deals, so talk to the manager.

Moore recommends that new and old gym members review benefits online or in the information package they are typically handed when they sign up. Go through the materials with a staff member to be sure you know what you’re getting. Then heck, ask for a little more — gym membership in the U.S. was down 3% in 2007 (there are no numbers yet for 2008) and clubs might consider throwing in a free month, a bigger membership discount, passes for a workout buddy, free or discounted personal training sessions or a free trial for a service the club otherwise charges for, such as a pool.

Monthly fees at luxury gyms such as SportsClub/LA, Equinox (equinoxfitness.com) and many hotel fitness centers that take monthly members can run north of $100. For hundreds to even $1,000 or so less each year, consider giving up the plush carpet and free mouthwash. Many lower-priced chains can charge less because they leave out expensive amenities such as spa, cafe and baby sitting, but they still offer cutting-edge equipment and, often, classes. Some even offer access 24/7, which the high-end clubs don’t usually match, or give access to any club in the network, useful for when you’re traveling.

Make sure to ask about all fees, however, and whether you can sign up month to month, rather than be locked into a full-year contract. And be sure to ask about cancellation rules, even for month-to-month contracts. Some clubs charge an enrollment fee but will often waive it if asked.

Lower-priced national chains:

* Snap Fitness (snapfitness.com) — 24/7 access. Fees about $40 per month, deals on couple and family memberships. Month-to-month contract.

* Anytime Fitness (anytimefitness.com) — access 24/7, key fee of about $35, monthly rate about $35. May require year contract plus initiation fee of about $50. Ask for best deal.

* 24 Hour Fitness (24hourfitness.com). Monthly rate about $29; may require year contract plus initiation fee of about $50. Ask for best deal.

Other tips:

* Out of work? If you’re locked into a year-long contract, ask the club if it will freeze your membership until you start working again, at least for a few months.

* Check payment details before you hand over your check or credit card. Best bet is a club that bills each month rather than via a deduction from a credit or checking account, though many clubs will insist on the deduction. You also don’t want to be locked into a year contract, if possible — you could change your mind or move.

* Before you sign, be sure you’re clear on what’s free and what you pay extra for. If classes are extra, you may want to find a club that includes them in the membership fee.

* Clubs often offer one or two personal training sessions free when you sign up. It’s cool to have someone work with only you, but it’s also expensive — $50 to $300 per hour, on average. If that’s not in your budget, consider these options: Ask for more free passes, ask trainers you like if they are ever on the floor to offer gratis coaching and find out if the club offers small training classes at rates well below the one-on-one sessions.

* Check your company benefits to see if free or discounted gym memberships are offered.

* Many health insurers offer discounts at specific gyms. Call the membership number on your insurance card or check the insurer’s website.

* If your doctor prescribes a gym membership to help treat a problem such as arthritis, you may be able to use your flexible spending account — a pretax account for medical expenses some firms set up for employees. Ask the doctor if a prescription is appropriate, then show it to the person at your firm who manages employee benefits and ask if your company will allow gym use to be covered by the account.

SOURCE: LA TIMES.