CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's such a great time of the year to work in the fitness industry. January predictably unleashes an onslaught of eager members and interesting challenges to YMCAs and other exercise centers across the nation.Parking lots are packed. Men, women and even children dash into the gym with their gym bags packed full of resolutions. Of course, the best part of this mad rush is the sight of committed faces armed with a healthy new year's dose of dedication on everyone who enters.One sweet month. For me, the best part of being a fitness educator is that for every ounce of hope that comes through the door comes a pound of opportunity. A wide-open chance to make a difference because connecting eager spirits to physical activity is much like pouring thick maple syrup over pancakes.That's right. It's the one time out of the year that people readily absorb the sweet benefits of being active. They soak it up and let it fuel the fire within -- that fire to be stronger, to feel better and to go to bed perhaps a little sore and slightly exhausted, but proud of the way they used the minutes that day.In case you don't know me, I'm no spring chicken. Just the fact that I wrote that pretty much reveals how old I am. Gasp. So, when I awake on Jan. 1 each year, it's a powerful day. First and foremost, it means I have been lucky enough to be given a year that is all mine -- to do with as I choose. I'm alive and well and I acknowledge deep gratitude for that indeed, but more than anything, I hold sacred the freedom to steer my next year. Will I throw in the towel and allow my 59 birthdays to consume me, or will I dare those measly years to dampen my zest for life?Let me illustrate how that looks in my mind. The view is one that scans and evaluates my fitness status, my weight, eating habits, the way my jeans fit, how comfortable I am in my skin. It even calculates the number of genuine compliments I received compared to the year before. And because by this time of year, I've probably fallen victim to the holidays (many times), I am neither pleased nor proud of the results.
In fact, if that weren't enough, my memories force me to view uninvited playbacks of each time I fell off the wagon and overindulged -- gee, thanks, 2011. These ugly recollections, though difficult to face, thankfully program my brain for the wake-up call. Now this may be happening in the minds of many of you as well, but what comes next is what I'd like to share.It's a test. Yes, a test as that has been my way of keeping me aligned and in check with the state of my health. I regularly ask myself, can you still sprint up that hill? Can you do six pull-ups, 30 pushups? Can you with straight legs still place your palms flat on the floor? Can you do a cartwheel or a round-off?This is how I measure myself. This is how I know how much I am aging every 365 days. These things are important to me. They aren't important to everyone, which is fine. I don't profess to be an expert on what should be important to you. However, if the level of your fitness is on your radar screen, then I ask you what can you not do now that you were able to do last year?It's a valid question. If your answer is a great many things, then reassessing your training regimen and upping the ante will probably be a worthwhile goal for 2012. Your body must be challenged today to equally perform tomorrow. Those who believe your body's function and durability improves with the same effort day in and day out will find their body feeling and looking vastly different over the course of a year.Make this year count. Overtraining is for fools, under-training is for those who mistakenly believe that's all it takes. Somewhere in the middle of those two is a prescription for longevity and the best life you can live.Unsure about how to train with great results? Seek out experienced professionals who have proven track records and can produce results based on your personal goals. If the basketball rim keeps getting higher or if your belt keeps shrinking every year, maybe this is the time to make a serious commitment toward recouping what's been lost. That's a good goal for anyone.Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified instructor/trainer since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to her at YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for Cindy's award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World," at www.cindysays.com, or contact the YMCA at 304-340-3527.