Families across West Central Minnesota may be cutting numerous expenses from their budgets, but according to local fitness centers, health and fitness is not on the family chopping block.
As many other discretionary items give way to bare-bones necessities, many area fitness centers have found that consumers are unwilling to surrender their club memberships to the economy.
Executive Director Theresa Wittenberg of the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA said the Willmar center has lost, at most, about eight memberships per month since the start of 2009. The Kandiyohi County Family Area YMCA has about 2,100 memberships, she said, which is actually about 5,000 members because of family plans.
Over the past few years, Wittenberg said, the county's YMCA memberships have grown by about 3 percent each year, but she doesn't expect similar growth in 2009. However, Wittenberg said she attributes the recent membership losses more to the increase in fitness center locations in the area than to the struggling economy.
In the YMCA's case, Wittenberg said the community center hasn't lost many members because of the variety of activities and the family environment the YMCA provides.
"It's more of a family experience. Our largest amount of memberships is with family," said Wittenberg, a 20-year YMCA employee. In essence, Wittenberg said, the YMCA has become a higher priority for some families because a membership costs about the same as taking the family to the movies.
"What I hear a lot is that people might forsake going on a big family vacation or buying a high-ticket item, but the YMCA is a family thing," said Tom Bolin, the YMCA's associate executive director.
However, even if a member feels they can't afford their membership in today's economy, Wittenberg said, the YMCA can most likely help them.
"For us, we have somebody loses their job ... they can come in and apply for a scholarship," Wittenberg said.
Wittenberg said Kandiyohi County's YMCA gave away about $139,000 in scholarships in 2008, which assisted about 785 members. The average income of members taking advantage of scholarships is about $14,000 a year, Wittenberg said.
Conversely, if the YMCA didn't offer scholarships, Bolin said, the community center would lose more members to the economic times.
Meanwhile, as the YMCA lost some members in recent months, other local fitness centers encountered membership increases.
Kelly Mace, director of the New London-Spicer Fitness Center, said the NLS center has enjoyed a membership increase since December. Before the close of 2008, she said, the NLS Fitness Center started 24-hour service for its 240 members, which has shown success.
"We're real excited because we've seen memberships increase," Mace said, attributing the increase to the hours switch and greater community awareness.
The Paynesville Fitness Center and the Anytime Fitness in Willmar also experienced similar membership results in recent months.
Director Matt Dickhausen of the Paynesville Fitness Center said the Paynesville health club enjoyed an increase in membership after the New Year, thanks to the center's recent transition to 24-hour service.
Dan Halldin, owner of Anytime Fitness in Willmar, said he has "seen nothing but growth" since taking ownership in the health club more than 19 months ago.
"The attrition rates have been very minimal," Halldin said. "We have seen really no drop-off in the last year."
Halldin said his 650-member fitness center has grown dramatically because of the financial incentives insurance companies started to offer. In fact, Halldin said, Anytime Fitness tallied a 20 percent increase in new memberships in January compared to January 2008.
"So we're seeing an actual increase in new members coming in with the economy being on a down cycle," Halldin said.
Whether or not the economy is thriving, Halldin said, the expense for any fitness club is worth the money because keeping healthy is affordable and convenient for most consumers.
"For about 50 cents a day, there really isn't much you can do that's cheaper than that and actually be for your well-being rather than making you sick," Halldin said.
"It's just way too convenient for people to not be healthy."
Fitness centers ...
Sound like the right time to join a fitness program?
If so, here are a few local centers and their membership rates. There are also a variety of other centers offering similar services throughout the region.
Area Family YMCA
Monthly agreement, no annual
Single Adult: $44
College student: $22
One-year agreement, monthly rates available
Single person: $25
Paynesville Fitness Center
One-year agreement, monthly rates available
Family: $39 plus tax/month
Single person: $24 plus tax
Anytime Fitness in Willmar
12-month or 18-month contracts
Single person: $31.50