This January, the New Canaan YMCA will offer its eighth annual Commit to Fit program. The goal of this incentive program is to provide the support and motivation Y members need in order to maintain a regular fitness schedule beyond the first few weeks following New Year's Day.

The program begins Jan. 3 and runs through April 8. Participants must perform 39 30-minute workout sessions, averaging about three sessions per week during this time period, in order to successfully complete the program. Workout sessions may include any 30-minute physical activity at the Y -- whether a group fitness class, a racquetball game or an individual workout in the Wellness Center or the swimming pool. Members track their workouts and progress with a special "calendar card" that is signed off by a Y employee verifying each session.

"By tracking my workouts on a regular basis and receiving the sign-off of a Y fitness staff member, I felt a stronger motivation to continue exercising through the Commit to Fit program and eventually on my own," said a former member.

"We've seen a tremendous amount of success in engaging members in a realistic and effective fitness routine through this program," Diane DiBella, assistant wellness director at the New Canaan YMCA and supervisor of the Commit to Fit Program, said. "Prior to launching the program eight years ago, we saw a large increase in memberships at the beginning of the year, but little retention. Last year, we had 300 members involved in the program, with an impressive 77 percent of participants who not only completed the 14-week program, but continued to regularly work out throughout the year."

"The Commit to Fit program forces members to sign a contract with themselves," Craig Panzano, executive director at the New Canaan YMCA, said. "The program's success can be attributed to developing this self-motivation in addition to the support and camaraderie the Y provides during the program and throughout the year."

In addition to the accomplishment of sustaining an effective fitness routine, members are also incented to complete the program with a variety of prizes donated by 18 local merchants with whom the Y has partnered with for the program. All participants who complete the program will be eligible to win, with this year's grand prize being a two-night getaway for two guests at the Stony Creek B&B/Linden Point House in Branford. The combined value of the prizes is approximately $2,300.

DiBella encourages those who are looking to improve the healthiness of their lifestyle to join the Commit to Fit program and offers the following advice. "Start out slowly and don't get overwhelmed," she said. "People often set their workout goals too high and burn out after a short while. It's much better to start out with an attainable goal of two workouts a week and increase if you can, as opposed to setting a goal of six sessions a week and only performing one."

In order to participate in the program, members may register and purchase their $10 "calendar card" beginning Dec. 20 through Jan. 15. The first 150 members to register will also receive a free Commit to Fit t-shirt. Participants must be at least 15 years old, and families are encouraged to join the program together.

Founded in 1954 by a group of community volunteers, the New Canaan YMCA is a non-profit organization whose mission is to enrich all people in spirit, mind and body. As an inclusive community service organization, the YMCA turns away no one for reasons of race, religion, or economic background and last year awarded nearly $340,000 in direct financial assistance. Serving the communities of New Canaan, Stamford, Norwalk and Darien, the YMCA also strives to partner with a variety of outside organizations to further its role as a community service provider.