I just started going to the gym after…man, how long has it been? I think the last time I was in a gym I was living on-campus at BYU, so this was probably around 2001 or so. In high-school I went to the gym for at least an hour per day, plus I was skateboarding several hours per day, so I was in reasonable shape, although I didn’t look like Bruce Lee or anything.
Now I weigh about 50 lbs more than I did when I graduated high-school, although I’m not any taller and it’s all soft. All these years I’ve wanted to go to some sort of weight-loss boot camp where somebody would force me to lose weight and get in shape, or maybe get lost on a tropical island like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Or have a personal trainer who would whip me into shape.
A few weeks ago I walked into the office and my project manager was talking to my office manager and as I entered they fell silent, a sure-fire sign they were talking about me. Turns out they were considering a wager as to whether our project manager could get me in shape in six months. He thought he could and had a track record with another fat guy to back up his claim. So I told him I’d pay for his gym membership in addition to my own if he’d force me to get up every morning and get some exercise.
The hardest part, as anyone who has stopped and started going to the gym before can attest, is the first day. Somehow you get it in your mind that everyone at the gym knows you’re there for the first time and that they think you’re a fat idiot. I don’t know why I feel this way because once I get used to going to the gym it never occurs to me to look at other people and think the same thing.
My employee didn’t make it any easier. We went around checking out different gyms and I’m pretty sure everyone thought we were a couple. I guess we didn’t help much. Here’s how one conversation went:
Gym employee: “So are you interested in a family plan, any kids?”
My employee: “No, it’s just the two of us.”
Gym employee: “Are you guys interested in swimming or raquetball classes?”
My employee: “Nah…”
A minute later…
My employee: “Do you have any yoga classes?”
Me: Cringe again
The other embarassing part is that we were doing this right at the beginning of the year, like all the other people who make New Year’s resolutions, pay out a few hundred bucks, and then only go three times. The fact that we’re starting at the gym right now is mere coincidence, a point I felt compelled to tell everyone at each gym we visited, although I didn’t.
Finally we figured out what gym we wanted to go to, and started getting into the sign up process. This process is meant to confuse you into signing up for more than you want. In addition, you can’t just sign up online and start going, you have to meet with a sales rep who tries to upsell you and who for some inexplicable reason apparently only works 2 hours per day which I know because I can never get a hold of him no matter when I call.
While there I asked about setting up a corporate plan, which indeed they do have, and the great thing about it is that it only takes you a few additional hours of questions and paperwork to set up, and then you save around $2.32 per month over the normal plan, only your lose some of the benefits of the normal plan. Fabulous.
At this point I started wondering whether I could run this through the business and pay for it with pre-tax dollars. Aren’t wellness and preventative health plans all the rage now? According to my accountant they are, but I would have to count the membership as compensation to my employee as well as myself, or in other words, no tax break. If anyone knows the tax code and believe it says differently I’d like to know. But for now, it appears I might as well just pay for the membership out of my own pocket.
So why not have a tax break for gym memberships? Let it be a write-off. At a minimum it seems the government would do this for recipients of government funded health care, but extending that to all citizens would cause more of a societal change that could potentially save the government even more money. Of course the issue would be whether or not people actually use the membership, so maybe there would need to be some way to verify usage. A yearly receipt that shows how many times you swiped your card at the entrance or something. I’m sure somebody could figure something out that’s cheap and easy.
If enacted and pushed hard with a good publicity campaign it could benefit the entire economy. Healthy workers are more productive workers, more productive workers means higher profits for corporations, and more profits means more taxes to be collected by the government. Mitt Romney has already done some innovative things with the government and healtcare in MA, maybe if he becomes President he can push this through too. I can see a grassroots campaign for this being very successful, and I won’t rest until we’ve got tax breaks for gym memberships as a top 10 issue on every candidate’s platform. Or maybe I’ll just bask in the genius of my idea and go have a bowl of ice cream.