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

The program begins Jan. 2 and runs through April 15. Participants must perform 39 workout sessions of at least 30 minutes, 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.

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Members track their workouts and progress with a special "calendar card" that is signed off by a Y employee verifying each session.

A previous Commit to Fit graduate explained the program.

"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," they said.

"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. Since launching the program, we see the majority of participants complete the Commit to Fit goal and about 75 percent of participants continue their routine throughout the year."

Craig Panzano, executive director at the New Canaan YMCA, agrees.

"The Commit to Fit program encourages members to sign a contract with themselves," Panzano 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 generously donated by 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 one-night stay at Rock Hall Luxe Lodging in Colebrook. Rock Hall was named "Best of New England" in 2009 and 2010 by New England Travel.

DiBella encourages those who are looking to improve the healthiness of their lifestyle to join the Commit to Fit program.

"Start out slowly and don't get overwhelmed," she said. "It's all about making healthier choices and remembering that change happens slowly and you need to give yourself time."

In order to participate in the program, members may register and purchase their $10 "calendar card" beginning Dec. 19 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 nonprofit 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 $270,000 in direct financial assistance. Serving the communities of New Canaan, Pound Ridge and South Salem, the YMCA also strives to partner with a variety of outside organizations to further its role as a community service provider.