Walking around her East L.A. neighborhood after being laid off from a 14-year administrative job at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Marisela Norte noticed a flyer for an aerobics class at the local Boys and Girls Club. The $2 charge per session was affordable. “It saved me from camping out on my sofa with a bag of chips,” says Norte. Two years later the 55-year-old is still without full-time work but has lost 32 pounds and bikes to her workout several times a week. To reward herself she splurged on a pair of jeans—in size 6.
“Exercise is extremely helpful when coping with the stress of losing your job or getting over depression,” says Dr. Mark Sergi, a Northridge clinical psychologist. But money for trainers or gyms is one of the first things to be cut from a budget trounced by the economic meltdown. Since last year chain studios have tried to keep people paying to sweat by offering such incentives as family deals, online specials, and contract-free memberships for $9.95 a week. The same gyms are seeing current members, with time on their hands, working out more frequently.
Jack Mollins, a Mid Wilshire 36-year-old, had months left on his membership at Meridian’s Bodies in Motion when he lost his sales job last summer. So he upped his cardio and strength-training sessions to twice a day. “If I were working in an office, there would be no way I would be able to get into the shape I am in,” he says. “The motivation was there; the time wasn’t.”
Heather Watkins similarly discovered this upside to being downsized. Showing up daily at the gym instead of at her project manager job with an interior design company, the 26-year-old simply swapped one routine for another. “I had a Burbank Athletic Club membership, but I had used it maybe twice,” she says. She also started relying on an iPhone application called Lose It! that charts calorie and fat intake, exercise output, and weight. Her newfound self-assurance has aided her job search. “My clothes fit better, and my self-esteem has increased,” she says. “I have the confidence to go into interviews and sell myself.”
Illustration by Kirsten Ulve