Tammy Stells wants 2009 to be a healthier year.
The 37-year-old nurse enrolled herself, her husband and two children in the Georgia Mountains YMCA's wellness program on Dec. 30. By New Year's Eve, she underwent her initial fitness evaluation and had an early start on her New Year's resolution to drop 60 pounds or more.
"Me and my husband both want to get healthy," said Stells, who said her mother died last Christmas "too young."
"She wasn't as healthy as she could have been, and I don't want to be in the same shape," Stells said.
Stells is part of the typical January rush on gyms and fitness clubs, as new members sign up with a pledge to be more health-conscious in the new year.
"It happens every year nationwide," said Mike Brown, CEO of the Georgia Mountains YMCA.
On Friday afternoon, the parking lot to the J.A. Walters Family Branch off Ga. 365 in Gainesville was full.
"We're seeing very high traffic," he said.
Much as retailers depend on December to break even, the owners and managers of health and fitness clubs count on January to sign up new members.
Brown said after a strong initial sign-up of around 3,000 households, membership fell off by about 300 later in 2008.
"We saw a drop, then we saw a huge gain as we got closer to the new year," Brown said.
On any given year, January gym joiners can add another 500 to 1,000 people to the membership rolls at facilities like Gainesville's Y, Brown said.
Other area gyms are signing up new customers, too.
"It definitely picks up here in January," said Patrick Chamberlain, a sales manager for Fitness Forum on Thompson Bridge Road. "We get a lot of New Year's resolutioners."
Health club managers say the key is keeping new members enthused and energetic about the programs after they join. That means early assessment and counseling, setting up realistic goals and guiding newcomers slowly through the varied fitness equipment and routines.
"We don't want them to blindly go at it," Chamberlain said. "That's when they go out and get lost. We want to help them out so they'll keep coming and not just come for one month."
At the YMCA, nearly a third of all members drop out, for a retention rate of 68 percent. That rate is actually considered above-par in an industry where up to 65 percent of people may drop out of their fitness programs within a year. Brown said the goal for the local YMCA is a 75 percent retention rate.
While January is crucial for memberships, how the new members are guided through the process by coaches and trainers is even more critical.
"The biggest thing is we want to know people will be here a year from now," Brown said. "We don't want them to sign up in January and drop out in March. We want people to meet their New Year's resolutions."
Stells, who spent Saturday sweating on a treadmill, stationary bike and other apparatus, said she believes she can stick it out, noting that the Y can accommodate her children while she exercises, making trips to the gym easier.
"It will give me the opportunity to work out and not have excuses," she said.