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Health and fitness memberships no longer a discretionary expense

Jerry Eckhoff of Willmar exercises on a stepper Wed-nesday at Anytime Fitness in Willmar. More people today are realizing the importance of staying healthy. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

Though many families have cut the cable bill or movie rentals from the monthly budget, many have hung on to their fitness center memberships because their health and wellness is worth it.

"People are beginning to understand the necessity of keeping themselves healthy as they age," said Dan Halldin, owner of Anytime Fitness in Willmar.

"For so many years, everyone basically paid no attention to that, anticipating that they were going to die at 65, 70 years old. Now they're finding out that at 65, 70 years old, they're not capable of doing the things they enjoyed, yet they're still alive."

To keep that level of activity, people are beginning to plan for the older age by watching their health at a young age, Halldin said.

Tom Bolin, associate executive director of the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA, said, in the past, health club memberships were usually considered a discretionary expense. "But I think more and more, for a lot of people, it's moving out of that category," Bolin said, indicating that fitness has become a necessity to more people.

And why not? In recent years, numerous insurance providers started offering financial incentives, such as rebates on membership fees, to their clients for health and wellness efforts.

As a result, people are "fighting for their memberships" and cutting other expenses, said Director Matt Dickhausen of the Paynesville Fitness Center, "because they see the value."

"We have quite a few of our members that, after they receive their insurance reimbursement, they pay as little as $2 a month for our membership," Dickhausen said.

Statistically, people are actually saving on health care when they exercise and try to live a healthy lifestyle, said Kelly Mace, director of the New London-Spicer Fitness Center.

"It's cheaper to pay $45 a month and prevent health problems from arising than waiting until after the fact and having enormous medical costs and bills and all that time away from work," Mace said.

"I think people are starting to do more preventative maintenance as the economy has gone the way it has in the past year or so."

Incentives and affordability aside, Halldin said people have become more aware of the consequences of their health-related decisions.

"People are just more educated as to the ramifications of not doing something," Halldin said.

"You can't put your health ... on the backburner for 20, 30 or 40 years and say, 'OK, I'm now going to get healthy again. At 65, I better take care of myself.' It's too late. There's been too much damage done to your body by then."

Disturbing health and fitness facts

* In 2007, 30 states reported that 25 percent or more of its population was obese. In 1985, not one state reported an obesity rate of 20 percent.

* In 2003-04, 17.1 percent of children and adolescents up to 19 years old (more than 12.5 million) were overweight, and 32.2 percent of adults (more than 66 million) were obese. Nearly 5 percent of adults were extremely obese.

* From 1998-2000, the U.S. spent more than $75 billion in overweight- and obesity-related medical costs. During the same years, Minnesota accounted for $1.3 billion.

* If current trends continue, nearly 67 percent of Minnesotans will be at an unhealthy weight by next year.

Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention and

Minnesota Dept. of Health