New Year resolution traps

We look at how to meet your new year goals while avoiding the traps.
 
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01 .New Year's intentions

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The silly season is over, and it’s that time of the year when we resolve to do things differently.

It could be a commitment to exercise more, give up smoking or make some simple lifestyle changes to save money and to live more sustainably.

We take a look at some common traps to watch out for such as:

For more information about Health myths, see General health.

Gym memberships

As soon as the holiday period is over, streets, gyms and swimming pools across the nation are full of well-intentioned folks trying to get fit and shed a few kilos. But by Easter, many of these born-again exercisers have swapped the gym or the park for the couch and some chocolate.

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A recent Australian report by IBISWorld shows that “going to the gym” is now listed as the second most popular activity after walking, and it’s projected that in the current financial year Australians will spend $2.9 billion on the fitness industry. At the same time we continue to rate as one of the most obese nations on the planet, so it seems that while many of us might actually join the gym and pay for memberships – we aren’t necessarily going. 

And new gym chains continue to pop up like mushrooms, offering something for everyone. There are the glitzy chain gyms like Fitness First and Virgin Active, women only gyms such as Fernwood, and the latest fad the 30-minute workout gyms such as Fit ‘n Fast.

Many gyms do require members to commit to costly memberships and a past CHOICE investigation revealed that many gyms use aggressive sales techniques to sign members up and even more aggressive techniques to try and keep you on, should you decide that you don’t want to go anymore.

Before you rush to sign up at a gym why not stop and consider the alternatives? Swimming is cheap and offers a great low impact workout, running can work for some, and the cheapest and easiest exercise of all - walking.

For more ideas see our article on exercise myths and tips, and even a guide on how to set up your own home gym for less than $100. 

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Trapped – check the fine print

If you have your heart set on the gym be wary of special offers, promotions and verbal promises.

  • Never take the salesperson’s word when it comes to offers and always take the gym contract home and read all the terms and conditions before you sign up. When CHOICE conducted a shadow shop of gym sales tactics some of the gyms refused to hand over the contract they expected the member to sign. This contravenes the code of practice set out by the industry body Fitness Australia and should ring alarm bells for the consumer.
  • If you do have the contract watch out that the fees listed on the contract are the same as the price that has been quoted to you, in particular check the administration fees for setting up or renewing your membership. These are non-refundable even if you cancel the contract during the cooling-off period.
  • Cancellations can also cost - many gyms charge up to $300 to do so.

What to consider before joining a gym

  • Consider your needs. Is the gym convenient to get to? What will happen if you move or change jobs? Does it provide childcare if you need it? Does the gym have enough machines/lockers/space? Visit the gym several times and at the times you plan to visit.
  • Check if the gym is a member of Fitness Australia at www.fitness.org.au or call 1300 211 311. Members must comply with the Fitness Code of Practice which includes providing a copy of the contract to members and a cooling off period upon joining.
  • Don’t be pressured into signing up on the spot. Consider a casual membership for a month or a few visits to see if the gym is right for you. Be wary of special offers, promotions and verbal promises.
  • Many gyms ask for payments by direct debit but even when your membership expires it doesn’t mean the direct debits will stop. Check the contract before you sign. If the fitness centre continues taking payments, talk to your financial institution asap.
  • If you need to cancel your membership, check your contract to see what is required. Even if the contract requires you to visit the centre to cancel in person, it is also wise to do it in writing. Then you can prove the date you requested for the membership to end.

There's an app for that:

Couch to 5k

Available for iPhone, iPod and Android this handy little app will help get you into shape using a simple three-day-a-week workout program spanning nine weeks. It will guide you through an interval training session step by step as well as playing music of your choice. 

 
 

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1021547_19652942_WEBGiving it up

Even though it seems like it’s almost impossible to smoke anywhere in public these days – it’s surprising that at last count nearly 17% of Australians still smoke regularly.

  • Smoking-related diseases killed 14,900 Australians in the financial year 2004–05 which equals 40 preventable deaths every day. 
  • The major tobacco-related diseases include cancer, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 
  • Smoking resulted in over 750,000 days spent in hospital and cost $670 million in hospital costs in the financial year 2004/05. 

It’s no secret that smoking is bad for you, but despite all the messages it is one of the hardest habits to kick. Caroline Miller, Chair of Tobacco Issues at the Cancer Council says that the secret to quitting requires commitment and usually an ‘a ha’ moment. 

“Smoking is a complex behavioural, emotional and addictive behaviour and no one size fits all.” 

She goes on to say that most people eventually quit by going cold turkey, but many people try several times before being successful.

Trapped – don’t pay to quit

Despite cold turkey being the most successful strategy for giving up there are no shortage of products and services that will be happy to take your money with promises of a magic bullet. From electric cigarettes to programs that promise you will quit forever in just seven days, all for the right price of course.

“People should be wary of any method or intervention or program that claims to have a 100% success rate.” says Miller “Quitting is hard – so hard that only a small percentage of quit attempts last for 12 months or more.”

Tips to quit

  • Nicotine replacement therapy and prescribed medications like Champix (which reduces the effects of nicotine in the body) can help with the addictive aspect of nicotine.
  • Cutting down, with or without pharmacotherapy, will increase the likelihood of quitting because it reduces nicotine dependence.
  • Getting counselling through the Quitline 13 7848 helps to work through the behaviour change and to get advice on quitting tips and methods.
  • Some people also find hypnotherapy works for them (even though it is not supported by randomised controlled trials)
  • Understanding there is no magic solution when it comes to giving up – it all depends on what works best for the individual, but there are plenty of options.

Help at the click of a mouse

While there are plenty of anti-smoking apps available for iphone and Android, a recent review in the USA of the apps currently on the market revealed that none meet the acceptable standards proven to help people kick the habit.  However there are a range of good online support programs available, such as QuitCoach.

greenPig_WEBSave dollars - and the environment too

To many of us, ringing in the New Year can mean an opportunity to get the household budget in order. And one of the biggest issues this year is rising energy bills. 

According to the ACCC electricity prices have gone up on average by 70% across states (including inflation) since 2007 so there’s never been a better time to look at simple tactics to keep the bills down as well as being more responsible when it comes to the environment.

Doing so can mean simple changes such as turning off appliances at the plug. Other actions such as choosing a high-efficiency TV, washing machine, dishwasher and fridge could save a household more than $4,000 in energy and water running costs over 10 years compared to low-efficiency choices. 

While they seem like small changes these changes also contribute to the greater good, it’s been estimated that if all Australian households cut their energy use by just 10% there would be a saving of almost $2 billion a year - not so small after all.

Shameful plugs

The CHOICE Shonky Awards awarded a device on the market that claims that it will save you 10% on power bills with its plug in power saving device. 

At $299 the Go4Green EnergySmart claimed you'll save 10% on energy bills and should pay for itself in six months. Sounds good, except that it doesn't work, at all. 

Since the Shonkys we’ve been advised of similarly dodgy products being touted by door to door salespeople to households anxious about rising energy costs. Our CHOICE experts’ advice? “None that we’ve seen so far work”.

Steps to save money and energy

  • Australian households spend nearly $1 billion a year on standby power. This could be slashed simply by turning many appliances off at the plug. 
  • Changing the thermostat on your air-conditioning or heater by just one degree can increase heating bills by 10%. 
  • Failure to replace old incandescent globes with energy savers results in people using 80% more electricity than they need to power a light. 
  • If you don’t use a water saving showerhead, you could be using up to an extra 48 litres of hot water per shower. That’s up to $100 extra per year. 
  • Washing clothes in hot water is much more expensive, as a hot water cycle uses up to 90% more energy than a cold water wash. 

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