This weekend, San Diego once again hosts the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association’s (IHRSA) national convention and trade show. What a show it is, with more than 9,000 health club members from 75 countries represented!

If you are a serious gym-rat like me, then attending seminars given by the world’s experts on exercise, fitness, health and well-being, experiencing exciting new fitness equipment from more than 320 exhibitors, and mixing with the finest trainers and health club owners in the world is pure heaven.

I’ll be writing more about the most exciting new products I saw, highlighting several that will surely make a genuine difference in your living well — and long. But this week, I want to focus your thinking on what you can do, right now, to increase your well-being.

Get this statistic: there are 97 health clubs in San Diego, with 227,000 members. California has 2,857 clubs, with 5.9 million members. The total number of health clubs in the United States is 30,022, with 45.5 million members. The national health club industry is a $19.1 billion industry. Are you part of it in any way? Forget "looking like a fool with your pants on the ground" — you are ignoring rock-solid, evidenced-based data and could very likely be "looking like a fool with — no fitness routine."

The most fascinating piece of information I found is what The Wall Street Journal called the "graying of the gym." Current data shows that gym membership among adults 55 and older rose to 10.5 million in 2008, up from 1.5 million in 1987, making this group the fastest-growing segment of the health club population.

Why should we be surprised? The Archives of Internal Medicine recently published a study showing that "physical inactivity is one of the strongest predictors of unsuccessful aging for older adults and is perhaps the root cause of many unnecessary and premature admissions to long-term care."

Let’s face it, movement is a medicine for creating a healthy change in a person’s physical, emotional and mental states. Exercise is the only well-established fountain of youth.

From cancer to osteoporosis and fragility, from cardiovascular disease to diabetes and dementia, study after study tells us the same thing — the percentage of people who are most active are least likely to develop these diseases. That’s right…it’s your lifestyle that matters. So you can either be inactive or healthy. Not both.

"If you are fit in midlife, you double your chance of surviving to 85," says Jarett Berry, a cardiologist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Put another way: If you're not fit in your 50s, your projected life span "is eight years shorter than if you are fit," Dr. Berry says.

National guidelines recommended Americans get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week or 20 minutes of intense physical activity three times a week to maintain fitness. That’s not to improve your fitness, just maintain it. Twice-weekly weight-training sessions to strengthen muscles are also advised. Fewer than half of Americans meet these guidelines. It’s their choice to suffer with unnecessary, lifestyle-based diseases. Many use the following excuses:

"I dread exercising. It feels like a chore or punishment. Over the years I’ve tried every type of gym and workout, but I always lose my motivation and drop out."

"Every year my doctor tells me to lose weight — and now I’m 30 pounds heavier than I used to be. I don’t know how it happened or how I can stop the weight from continuing to creep up on me."

"I don’t have time for one more thing. I’m constantly on the run and while I’d like to take better care of myself, I just can’t find time to exercise."

Exercise sounds like a chore. Diets nearly always fail. So think fitness and health, disease prevention, feeling and looking good. After all, exercise is the poor person’s plastic surgery. Exercise isn’t a matter of life and death — it’s more than that. And as far as I know, in spite of the cost of living, living is still popular.

So what can you specifically do? First, if you aren’t among the smart 227,000 folks who already belong to one of the 97 gyms in San Diego, JOIN AND GET ACTIVE. OK, you prefer to do your moving at home?

If brisk walking (100 steps a minute), hiking, jogging at least 4.0 miles per hour, swimming, bicycling at least 12 miles per hour, or Zumba dancing don’t sound like the wonder drugs they are, follow the six-week training program in the link below and you'll soon be on your way to completing 100 consecutive push ups! Push-ups? That’s right, push-ups! And nobody is watching. But learn how to do them correctly before you do even one for goodness’ sake.

The push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness, testing your whole body, engaging muscle groups in the arms, chest, abdomen, hips and legs. It requires your body to be taut like a plank with your toes and palms on the floor. Researchers who study the biomechanics of aging note that push-ups also provide the strength and muscle memory to reach out and break a fall.

Based on national averages, a 40-year-old woman should be able to do 16 push-ups and a man the same age should be able to do 27. By the age of 60, those numbers drop to 17 for men and 6 for women. Realize that you lift 75 percent of your body weight when you do a standard push-up according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Not a bad single exercise to start you on your road to fitness.

Here’s the terrific link you need to get you started on this 100 push-up challenge, taking your beginning level into consideration and not overtaxing your heart, health or current level of strength: hundredpushups.com. I am on week four for your information.

Like the commercials always caution, be sure to ask your doctor if getting off your a%# is right for you before starting any movement program. But ask your doctor only if your doctor is fit.

Let me know how you are coming along with your living well and please remember, as The Wall Street Journal just reported, "to double your odds of seeing 85, GET A MOVE ON."

For more than 30 years, Dr. Mantell has successfully been bringing upbeat, friendly and helpful psychological insights to individuals, families and businesses in San Diego as a clinical and corporate psychologist in private practice. He's been a regular on Good Morning America, KFMB-TV News 8, has appeared on Oprah, Larry King Live, the Today show, authored two best-selling books and speaks regularly for audiences throughout the country. He can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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