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In the Gym

As More People Seek Convenient Ways to Exercise Daily, They're Creating Gyms at Home With Treadmills and Other Equipment

November 09, 1998|CONNIE KOENENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kelly Brown belonged to a gym and liked working out but was so involved in the family marketing business that it was a hassle to get there. And her husband, whose doctor had recommended cardiovascular workouts, didn't want to take the time. There seemed but one solution: Bring the gym home.

So eight years ago she bought a Star Trek 2000 treadmill with all the extras: heart monitor, calorie meter and wheels for movability. The cost: about $4,000.

"Back then, that seemed really expensive, but we wanted the top of the line," said Brown, who put it on the patio of their Point Dume home for an ocean view during workouts.

It was also a luxury item at the time, she recalls, but no more.

"Now everybody seems to have treadmills--even my mother has a mini one in her apartment, which she puts under the bed," Brown said.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday November 16, 1998 Home Edition Health Part S Page 5 View Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Home Gyms--A story in the Nov. 9 Health section about home gyms gave the incorrect name for a treadmill machine. The correct name is the Star Trak 2000.

Indeed, fitness buffs are converting spare bedrooms, patios, garages and large closets to home gyms at such a pace that we can surely expect some sort of "fitness niche" in the homes of the future. (A spokesman for the National Assn. of Home Builders says that home gym space is starting to appear in upscale houses of 3,000 square feet and more.)

Like Kelly Brown, many people are discovering the convenience of exercising at home. "I get in 45 minutes at least three times a week," Brown said. "I'm just more alert and energetic, even when I'm rundown."

Americans in 1997 spent an estimated $5 billion on home-exercise equipment, according to the Fitness Products Council, a trade group.

And while many stationary bikes and rowing machines still wind up in the garage sale pile, that is the exception rather than the rule. Council figures show that 32.3 million American households use exercise equipment regularly. (An additional 17.6 million homes, they calculate, have exercise equipment that isn't used regularly.)

In part, the trend is driven by 76 million baby boomers who are at or approaching middle age, and who are most anxious to postpone the physical decline of old age.

"They've watched what happened to their parents, and they don't want to get to their 70s or 80s and have osteoporosis and heart attacks," one health club trainer said.

But baby boomers aren't the total picture. Their parents are trading leisurely walks for stationary bikes and modest weightlifting exercise, prodded into action by increasing evidence that exercise pays off, even for people who start as late as their 80s or 90s.

"The body is remarkably forgiving," said psychologist Robert L. Kahn, coauthor of "Successful Aging" (Pantheon, 1998), a groundbreaking study documenting the importance of lifestyle choices on later life. "It is never too late to start exercising." As a result, the marketplace is diverse.

"We don't have a typical customer," said Marshall Grattan, assistant manager of Sport Chalet in Marina del Rey. "I get everything from men or women who've just had a heart attack to people in their mid-20s who work out three hours a day."

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And while a piece of exercise equipment is not essential for a healthy workout, it offers the overriding benefit of being designed specifically for its activity. Home fitness manufacturers are designing trim versions of the hefty treadmills and stair climbers, once limited to gymnasiums and health clubs.

The psychological high of a good aerobic workout can be addictive enough to demand a daily fix.

"You definitely do get hooked on it," said Gregg Hartley, director of the Fitness Products Council. "Our studies show that 56% of people with health club memberships also have home equipment."

"Members ask me all the time where they can buy the kind of treadmills we have here," said Linda De La Torre, director of Meridian Courtyard Club in Los Angeles. "They want to fill in the workout gaps at home."

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Today's home shopper can find machines for walking, running, rowing, stair-climbing or cross-country skiing. The newest trend, an elliptical cross-training machine, combines all those functions.

But even as fads come and go, the backbone of the home gym industry remains the treadmill, according to the Fitness Products Council, which reports that consumers spent about $1.5 billion for treadmills in 1997--more than for any other major piece of equipment.

Treadmills are a good choice, say health experts. Not only are they easy to use for anyone who can walk or run, they offer a high rate of return in health benefits. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. cited the treadmill as the optimal indoor exercise machine for burning calories and boosting heart rate. And treadmills come with nearly as many options for style and price as a new car.

"Our treadmills have evolved dramatically in user-friendly directions," said Jon Thomas, a spokesman for Icon, a major fitness equipment manufacturer based in Utah.

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