Gift options to exercise

December 09, 2005|By KRISTEN GERENCHER

Fitness-oriented gifts can be tricky if you're unsure how they'll be received.

There's a risk of offending the recipients by implying they need to get off the couch and get in shape. But for many active people and others looking to get started, sporty presents will be welcome this holiday season.

Whether it's a gift certificate, an interactive video-game trainer, pedometer, padded bicycle shorts or thermal accessories for winter sports, gifts that make exercise more comfortable can help motivate and keep people on track with their fitness goals, experts say.

Smaller gifts such as yoga mats, exercise videos or DVDs, balance and stability devices and elastic bands will consume neither your budget nor all the space in your house, said Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.

"There are a lot of low-cost options that can have a relatively high degree of appeal for folks," he said.

Michael Spezzano, national health and fitness specialist for the YMCA of the USA in Chicago, said popular yoga, Pilates and tai chi-related fitness regimens breed good gift opportunities.

"Those mind-body programs have grown significantly over the last five years," he said. "They require minimal equipment: a mat, in some cases, blocks, rubber bands or straps. They're very portable."

Americans spend about $6 billion a year on home-exercise equipment, with more than half of purchases around the holidays, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, a trade group of 700 companies that make sports equipment.

Many also buy gift certificates so their recipients can attend group exercise classes, get a massage, join a gym or try a personal trainer.

Pedometers and heart-rate monitors, such as those from Polar USA, Reebok and Timex, are capturing more consumers' imaginations as the message takes hold that you need to move more and gradually increase the number of steps you take per day, SGMA spokesman Mike May said.

"People are looking to supplement their workout regimen with bells and whistles that will help them chart [their] progress," he said.

Spezzano agreed. "A pedometer is a great stocking stuffer -- even small hand weights people could use at home for strength training."

Shirley Archer, author of The Walking Deck and a health educator and fitness specialist for the Stanford Prevention Research Center in Palo Alto, Calif., recommends the Accusplit Eagle, which sells for about $30, for people who want a low-tech way to track their steps and distance. Those who want more functionality and don't mind a heftier price tag ($129) may prefer WalkStyles' DashTrak, she said.

Gift givers also can make strides with presents of new gym shoes or suggested participation in America on the Move, an initiative that promotes adding 2,000 steps and cutting 100 calories a day. It offers free support and tracking, and a starter kit with a quick-start guide and Accusplit pedometer for $24.95.

Individuals and families can join at no cost, affiliate manager Lauren Roth said. "There are all sorts of ways they can see each other's progress when participating as part of a group."

Those who are stumped for suggestions may want to consider the following ideas, experts say:

Try "exergaming." For around $35, you can get a personal trainer who makes unlimited house calls. Yourself!Fitness is a virtual personal training program for PlayStation2, Xbox or a personal computer that mixes a variety of workouts based on individual characteristics and preferences.

With interactive prompts, the program assesses a user's abilities and makes adjustments to target areas of weakness, said Phineas Barnes, chief executive of Respondesign, the developer of Yourself!Fitness in Portland, Ore. Maya, Yourself!Fitness' personal trainer, even gives you guilt trips if you miss a scheduled workout.

Along the same theme, Sony's new Eye Toy: Kinetic is due out, and younger people may enjoy Dance Dance Revolution from Konami.

For those looking into home gyms, experts advise investing only if you know you'll use one. Another prudent step for first-timers is to shop at a secondhand equipment store.

Treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bicycles can make watching TV at home anything but sedentary, and they come in various sizes and prices. Despite their bulk and higher cost, treadmills and stationary bikes are still the most popular equipment purchases, May said.

About 47.5 million Americans used a treadmill last year and 31.4 million used a stationary bike. The treadmills Consumer Reports recommends in its December issue are the Schwinn 820P for $1,300 on the lower end and the True Z4 HRC for $2,300, Landice L7 Series Pro Sports Trainer for $2,900 and Precor M 9.31 for $3,000 on the higher end.

Whether it's specially designed socks or gym shorts, sporty apparel that keeps the sweat at bay can make for a thoughtful gift, Archer said. "People need to get away from wearing old T-shirts to work out," she said. "There are materials like wicking that are comfortable, breathable and make your exercise experience more pleasant."

Finally, a gift of tickets to a sporting event or dance performance reminds recipients what the human body can do, potentially motivating aficionados to work on their own physiques and athletic abilities.

Kristen Gerencher writes for

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