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Exorcising Heavy Burden of New Year’s Fitness Resolutions

Times Staff Writer

It happens every January, the month of the “Oh, no’s.”

All those holiday parties and dinners are over. Now to get on the scales.

‘Oh, no, I’ve gained four pounds,” the Pasadena woman said and headed to her local health spa.

Her reaction was typical of many whose excesses of food and drink over the holidays catch up in early January.

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“This is a very dangerous time of the year,” said Ruth Prodan, head of Office Aerobic Services, a Los Angeles firm that contracts with corporations and businesses in California for in-house aerobics, fitness and nutrition classes for employees.

Sabotaging Success “People make all these resolutions because they’ve put on weight or stopped exercising during the holidays and feel terrible,” Prodan continued. “But then they sabotage their own success by trying to do everything at once. They quit eating, quit drinking, quit smoking and overexercise.”

Prodan was one of a group of fitness experts surveyed by The Times who reported a January boom in fitness programs.

A 32-year-old former dancer who started her business after being injured and unable to continue performing professionally, Prodan stresses to her clients that they should do whatever exercise they enjoy and do it slowly, working up to a level they feel comfortable with.

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“You set yourself up for failure if you do it all at once,” she said. “You have to do it gradually.”

On a chilly evening last week, Prodan lined up 12 employees of the downtown Union Bank branch on Main and 9th streets in front of the tellers’ windows for their biweekly aerobics class. There were some new faces, as well as men and women who had been in the class since it started 1 1/2 years ago.

Some employees were dressed in leotards, others in sweat suits. Passers-by stared in the windows at them, smiling at seeing the bank employees in such attire.

“People always peer in the windows and stare at us,” said Bruce Corbin, regional vice president of Union Bank and manager of this branch. “But we don’t mind. We all enjoy this. It makes you feel much better and increases your stamina. We tell prospective employees, ‘Come work for us, we’ve got an aerobics program.’ ”

A few of the bank employees said that they also belong to health spas near their homes, but liked this program because it’s more convenient to exercise there right after work.

Prodan said since she started her business in 1982 “when corporations wouldn’t even talk to me,” her office aerobics classes have really taken off. “We have about 40 clients in Los Angeles, San Francisco and now San Diego,” she said. “And more companies are calling all the time now. We have 10 more major corporations starting this month.

“Our attendance everywhere in December was shameful, but now everybody is coming back,” Prodan said, turning on the music for the warm-up exercises.

Although she believes that Southern California is the capital of fitness and exercising, Prodan says that Orange County is the No. 1 fitness-conscious location. “Much more so than Los Angeles,” she said. “Newport Beach is the place for jocks. Everybody is a jock there, even more so than Beverly Hills.”

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Watching her students warm up to the music, Prodan smiled and said, “I can see who hasn’t been exercising. Everybody is huffing and puffing.”

Offering two years’ membership for the price of one, the Sports Connection, a group of five health clubs started about six years ago, has signed up about 500 new members since Jan. 1.

Its current promotion, titled “We’ll Take a Year Off While You Take Your Rear Off!,” is one of its most successful promotions, according to Nanette Pattee, vice president and co-founder of the Sports Connection.

“January is definitely the biggest month in the health club business,” Pattee said. “Not only for new members, but everybody who hasn’t worked out for a year comes back. Of course, you always have those who make New Year’s resolutions that fall by the wayside by March.”

Representatives of several Nautilus, Jack La Lanne clubs and Holiday Spas also reported a brisk new membership business, as well a large number of returnees, since the end of the holidays.

“All of our strategy, our new direction, is based on big co-ed clubs,” said Raul Araluce, corporate advertising director for the 29 Jack La Lanne clubs in Southern California. “We’re putting child care centers in our clubs and trying to make exercising more convenient for people.

‘A Lot of Competition’ “There’s a lot of competition now,” Araluce added. “I used to say there was a gas station on every corner. Now I say there’s a spa on every corner.

“But in the last few years, I think people have a better attitude about themselves, especially in Southern California. Not only are we attracting new members, but our renewals are enormous now. Today’s trend calls for better-looking people, more physically fit.”

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Sports Connection’s Pattee said that its members, both men and women, also are pretty consistent exercisers. “We get about 1,500 to 2,000 people a day coming through each of our five clubs,” she said.

“We try to provide an atmosphere that is different from the health clubs of yesterday,” Pattee explained. “We say, ‘Stick around and play all day.’ We have lounges and snack bars, as well as pools, exercise classes, weight rooms, spas. Our concept is more than a health club. It’s a life style. It becomes part of their life style like the country club was to our parents.”

For June Shumway of La Canada, health clubs have been an almost permanent way of life. Shumway, 70, ran the Mona Lisa Spa for women in the Pasadena area for 40 years before selling her business in November to customer Barbara Miller.

Now Shumway returns to the club two or three times each week to exercise.

“It takes a while after the holidays to get back in the groove of exercising,” Shumway said. “But you have to keep at it. It’s regularity that counts. You’ve got to be regular to get the benefit. Regularity is what makes it all work.

“Nothing will take off weight except cutting down calories (the Mona Lisa program also offers an 800-calorie-a-day diet as well as an exercise program to customers). You can lose inches with exercise. Of course, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can lose in the wrong places, but with proper treatments, you can lose in the right places.”

The concept of exercise has changed considerably over the years, Shumway said, from the more passive kind where the machines did most of the work, to people vigorously working out with machines.

“It changed for the younger ones,” Shumway said. “Today a lot of young women are interested in muscle building. We don’t do that here. We tone muscles. There is quite a difference in toning and muscle building. I don’t think women really want to have their muscles defined. I think women want to be smooth.”

Shumway believes that aerobics programs are good, but that people should be careful with them. “Aerobics are good for people, but they can build up muscle and you can actually gain.

“A lot of the older women find aerobics just too much,” she continued. “We do stretching and moderate exercising. A lot of the women, in their 40s even, won’t do aerobics.” Shumway and new owner Miller both stress a combination program of passive exercise where machines do most of the work and participating in floor exercises and bicycle riding. The Mona Lisa, with about 175 members, caters to women from about 35 to octogenarians.

“We had a men’s department the first year I was here,” Shumway said. “Mostly doctors came, but only Tuesday, Wednesday and Fri day nights and Saturday during the day. But women sort of edged out the men, and we’ve kept it for women. Some are three-generation customers. But today, all the more popular places are co-ed.”

Mona Lisa customers also are measured once or twice a week by spa employees to keep track of how many inches they have lost.

“For every five pounds, you lose about an inch in all your measurements with a diet and exercise program,” Shumway said. “I must have measured more than 100,000 women over the years. We always tried to show the women that we cared about them. Caring is a very important part. People seem to stress that caring is important to them and it makes them want to come in. We call them if they haven’t been in.”

Like Shumway, Miller espouses the caring approach for customers and continues to call them at home if they’ve been ignoring their exercise regimen.

“I should have come here years ago,” said Ruth Fenton, at 86 the spa’s oldest customer. “I’ve been coming now for 11 years and would have come sooner if I’d known how good I’d feel. It’s (the exercise program) taken inches off me. I don’t do aerobics, though, it’s too much for me.”

Fenton, who lives in Monrovia and travels by bus three times a week to the Mona Lisa, also walks two miles a day and tries to stick to a high-fiber diet.

“I first came here with a friend, but she didn’t come back and I did,” Fenton said. “She said it was too much trouble to get dressed twice in one day.”

Fenton, like most people, admitted to holiday excesses.

“I’m here exercising. I do about an hour each time,” she said, adding that she once weighed 182 pounds and now weighs 115. “But I’ve got to get back on my high-fiber diet, too. I put on five pounds over the holiday and I have to take it off now.”


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