- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

Pamela Barnett of Vienna has an exercise friend, a neighbor she jogs with at a local track. She says working out with someone else helps time pass quickly. Otherwise, she says, she might be tempted to be a couch potato.

“It’s hard to change your mind at the last minute, if there’s someone there to meet you,” Ms. Barnett says. “It also makes it more fun.”

Maintaining motivation is the key to exercising regularly. Those people who try to get into shape and become discouraged need to find ways to entice themselves to keep trying.

A workout partner can be found online, says Patrick McCluskey, president of ExerciseFriends.com, based in Austin, Texas, with offices in McLean and San Diego. Ms. Barnett used the free service to meet her jogging buddy.

After moving to California a few years ago, Mr. McCluskey left behind his gym friends — and gained 30 pounds.

Because he met his fiancee online, he says he decided he should be able to meet people interested in exercising the same way. When he searched the Internet, however, he couldn’t find a comparable service. So he decided to start his own.

“It’s a well-known fact that one of the top 10 motivators of being healthy is exercising with a friend,” Mr. McCluskey says. “Not everyone can afford a personal trainer, but they want friendly motivation.”

Although the Web site is not a dating service, it similarly matches people with appropriate exercise partners, he says.

Everyone from fitness freaks to first-time exercisers can find a buddy. The site matches people interested in 111 sports, including walking, running, tennis, cycling, snowshoeing, badminton and bowling.

It even lists organized group events, like softball games and hiking excursions. Also, mothers with infants who walk together with their strollers through the neighborhood have met via the Web site, he says.

“There have been people who have lost 30 pounds,” Mr. McCluskey says. “It carries over into other parts of their lives. Now they are sharing healthy recipes with each other.”

A new habit takes at least three months to establish, says Maria Johns, wellness director at the YMCA Bethesda-Chevy Chase in Bethesda.

Finding an enjoyable activity ensures that people will stick with it, she says.

“You’re not going to run if you’re not a runner,” Mrs. Johns says. “If it’s walking, then walk. If it’s swimming, then swim. If it’s none of the above, find something that is tolerable, like adults work out using exercise balls.

If out-of-shape women are nervous to exercise beside male bodybuilders they might want to try an all-female gym, says Elvi Moore, owner of Curves in Northwest, which offers fitness programs designed for women. The programs involve strength training, cardiovascular training and resistance machines.

“There are a lot of women who would rather not be around sweaty men,” Ms. Moore says. “Curves is a very non-threatening, non-intimidating environment. I think that’s why women love to come.”

The gym also offers extra incentives, such as trivia games and workout challenges to keep women motivated, Ms. Moore says. For instance, if a woman works out three times a week for six weeks, she receives a prize and is entered in a drawing for a larger prize.

“There is a lot of camaraderie,” Ms. Moore says. “You want to come back and try to achieve your goals, feeling good and having more energy.”

Setting realistic expectations for weight loss is important, says Donna Harnish, corporate fitness manager at CommonHealth in Richmond. The company provides fitness programs for corporations across Virginia.

If someone needs to lose 50 pounds, they might push too hard at the beginning and become burned out, she says.

It’s better to set lesser goals and grant rewards when they are accomplished. For instance, exercising three times a week for two months might “earn” a CD or a night at the movies, she says.

“If they don’t set themselves up for failure, they can actually feel the benefits of the physical activity, as opposed to going too fast, too soon, when their bodies can’t handle it,” Ms. Harnish says. “They need to find things they enjoy doing.”

While some exercisers do best when varying activities, others need structure in their schedule, she says. Usually, the more options, the more chances for success.

If parents start early to make exercise a lifestyle with their children, it will carry over into the children’s adult years, Ms. Harnish says.

“Parents will take their kids to soccer leagues or softball games,” Ms. Harnish says. “The kids are out playing and the parents sit and watch. They could walk some laps around the field. As a society, we’re ingrained to stay seated.”

Tapping into an emotion, such as fear, is a more drastic motivation, Ms. Harnish says. If someone has had a heart attack, their incentive to exercise might be to prevent another serious incident.

If an exerciser really wants to hire a personal trainer for motivation, but thinks he or she can’t afford it, there are ways around that problem, says Tim Carroll, personal trainer at Life Time Fitness in Fairfax.

Instead of going out to eat two or three times a week, he suggests using that money for one training session per week for a jump-start.

Even when Mr. Carroll is hired, however, he says he is not a miracle worker. Clients must change their overall lifestyles.

“I stay on top of my clients. I make sure they are coming to the gym frequently,” Mr. Carroll says. “I know their likes and dislikes, to push their buttons to get them in here.”

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