Can’t buy motivation

There’s a move afoot to persuade the government of Canada to offer tax breaks for gym memberships – like the tax breaks in the works for kids’ sports programs.

The Fitness Industry Council of Canada wants people who belong to gyms to send a million postcards to Ottawa.

FIC president Dave Hardy says money is a good motivator for those who want to get fit.

"A tax credit toward the cost of gym memberships will encourage more Canadians to get active, get healthier and be more productive in the workplace," Hardy said. "We think removing economic barriers to exercise this way is a natural extension of the government's Children's Fitness Tax Credit."

Hardy says response to the campaign has been strong. He says five Edmonton-area fitness clubs have already run out of the postcards and ordered more. He’s anticipating the need for another printing.

"The Children's Fitness Tax Credit is a step in the right direction for Canadians, but we believe more can be done by extending this to all Canadians regardless of age," Hardy said.

He may be on to something. Or maybe not. Trouble is, fitness centres can be pretty good at attracting members, but not so great at persuading them that there’s more to getting fit than plunking down some plastic and showing up half a dozen times.

A 2003 study in the European Journal of Sports Science found that up to 65 per cent of new gym members drop out in the first three to six months.

But it’s not necessarily the fault of the fitness clubs. Results take time, and when you don’t see dramatic change right away, you get discouraged. And no tax break in the world can change that.

You have to want to do it.

Whether it’s taking up walking, running, belly dancing, or playing hockey three times a week, you have to do it not because you want to get fit but because you enjoy the activity. Fitness is a wonderful byproduct.

About three years ago, a behavioural psychologist, who is director of wellness advancement for the Metro Atlanta YMCA, came up with a program he called Coach Approach. Jim Annesi’s program helps people create short- and long-term goals, tackle nutrition as well as exercise and gives them the psychological tools to help adapt to lifestyle changes.

The program is offered at 14 YMCAs in the U.S., where Annesi says it’s cut the dropout rate in half.

To Hardy’s credit, the tax break program his organization is championing isn’t limited to fitness clubs. He’s arguing for breaks for organized sports leagues for adults as well.

He will make his case before a panel of experts looking at the proposed $500 tax credit for kids’ sports programs on Sept. 19.