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Health Talk 

Fitness centers around the country are enjoying abundant memberships and are expanding their offerings of classes to meet the demands of consumers. Sandy Franco, co-owner of Franco's Athletic Club (100 Bon Temps Roule St., Mandeville, 985-792-0200, www.myfrancos.com; 111 Robert E. Lee Blvd., 286-8801; www.francoslakeview.com) discusses her state-of-the-art facilities and how customers can achieve fitness.

Q: When you started Franco's in 1988, what were your main focus and intent?

A: When we first started Franco's 17 years ago, our hope was to create a place that was much more than a gym. We wanted to transform what was a tiny racquetball club into one of the top-ranked clubs in the nation. Our vision was to build and create a club that made working out fun, inviting and most importantly comfortable for all of our members.

Q: Why do you think fitness centers are enjoying so much success compared to the past?

A: It's cool. It's smart. In today's culture, everybody works out. On the Northshore, it has become a lifestyle for most people. In the '70s, the only people at the gyms were the young, beautiful, hard-body people. Today, mom, dad, the kids and even grandparents go to the club. We've developed an environment in our club that people want to be a part of and feel energized by. It's more than just weights and machines. It's friendly, motivating, knowledgeable people. It's offering classes that keep members smiling and having fun. It's about recognizing that the mind is connected to body and creating an atmosphere that helps clear the mind.

Q: What are the latest innovations you've brought to Franco's?

A: Franco's is recognized worldwide as a leader in the fitness industry and is always chosen by fitness manufacturers to showcase or launch new equipment and ideas. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago Ñ our club is right up there with the big boys. Whatever is in the clubs on the East and West Coasts, they will find it at our club. One thing our members know is that Franco's is always on the cutting edge, offering the latest and greatest in equipment classes and programs. At Franco's Lakeview, we just finished adding more than a quarter million dollars worth of cardio equipment.

Q: Over the years, have you seen more of a holistic integration of health, fitness and well-being among your customers?

A: The realization that there is a connection between the mind and the body has never been greater. Much of the credit should go to the growing popularity of yoga and Pilates. Our mind and body studios are some of the most popular features at our clubs. I think it is because today people never stop; to just be still and quiet and to focus on the moment restores us and rejuvenates us with each breath.

Q: What are your most successful programs or classes and why?

A: At Lakeview, our members thrive on our classes that are different. Body pump, yoga, Pilates, inspirational praise yoga.

Q: Can everyone find something they can stick to, or do people usually go for a variety?

A: Variety is not only the spice of life, but it keeps you from getting bored. You should always try something new and challenge your body; otherwise, there will be no change.

Q: What is the hardest part of getting people to undertake and stick with a regular fitness routine?

A: Misperception Ñ that everyone at the club is in shape and looks great. They are afraid they will feel intimidated. Being fit is about feeling good and being your best; it's not about looking like someone else. Our Òfit-not-perfectÓ philosophy means that being fit and healthy doesn't mean you must have a perfect body.

For many, the hardest part is getting in the door. Once we can get someone to take that first step and experience what we are really about, the process of working out is easier and more rewarding than they ever realized. Others say they have no time. ItÔs not a matter of not having time; it's a matter of priorities. We make time for what's important.

Once people have made this commitment, they need to make sure everyone around them understands that this is a priority and then respect the allocated time you have dedicated to exercise. Work your schedule around your workouts. If you try to work in your workouts, it will never happen. Hey, if our president and Oprah can do it, surely we can, too.

Q: What are the greatest rewards people can expect from your programs? Do you have any great success stories?

A: The stories that we hear are countless, yet each one is so inspirational and emotional. Often people begin working out to lose weight and look better, but they always realize when the pounds start falling that it means so much more. It changes your entire life. It improves your confidence, you feel better, and you sleep better. It's empowering; every day is just happier and more rewarding and fulfilling. There is nothing else like it.

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