Ask health clubs about a break on fees

Health clubs have historically been immune to economic downturns. Many people consider exercise a necessity rather than a luxury. And in anxious times, working out is looked to as a great stress buster.

But this financial crisis is more severe, and many gyms have seen flat or decreasing revenue as members quit and fewer people join, according to an industry trade group. As a result, health clubs are working harder to attract and retain members, who might be experiencing their own financial difficulties.

"Overall, there is increased flexibility on the part of clubs," says Rosemary Lavery, a spokeswoman for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, the industry trade group. "There are deals to be had."

She says that many clubs are offering discounts - particularly now, at the beginning of the year, when more people consider joining. Some clubs are waiving the application fee, while others have lowered monthly fees. Many have referral programs, offering benefits for members who persuade friends and family to join.

Lavery says some clubs might also be willing to work with members who can't afford membership dues right now. She recommends talking with club managers to see what kind of arrangement can be worked out.

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