Shop around for a good fitness camp.

First, decide which type of program best suits your needs. There are weight-loss camps, sports-specific camps or fitness camps that focus on exercise.

If you're considering a camp with a vigorous exercise routine, consult your doctor first.

Ask a lot of questions, said Dr. Peter Van Handel, head of the exercise physiology laboratory at the Olympic Training Center. "If you are talking with the camp leader, ask other people there about the type of program offered," he said. "Have there been complaints to the Better Business Bureau? How long have they been in existence?"

Tap local resources such as sports medicine professionals or dietary associations. See if there is a consensus about the camp you want to go to, said Van Handel, who holds a PhD in exercise physiology.

Watch for hidden costs. If the program requires you to sign a contract, check for penalties if you want to cancel.

"Be wary of outrageous claims, gimmicks, or very expensive items that you have to buy over a long period of time," Van Handel said. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Remember that most camps are short-term programs, ranging from a weekend to one or two weeks.

"Because of the shortness of these camps, it is highly unlikely that you are going to get real physiologic changes in a person," said Van Handel. "The intent as I see it is to provide an educational package or experience so the individual has time to relax and is educated on diet and exercise so they can leave camp and pursue appropriate programs."

Check the qualifications of the instructors and personnel, said Dr. Leroy Getchell, executive director of the National Institute for Fitness and Sports in Indianapolis. "There are a lot of people out there that are calling themselves fitness experts but are not qualified."

Getchell, who holds a doctorate in physical education, recommends that instructors have at least a bachelor's degree in sports science with an emphasis in adult fitness.

A number of adult wellness programs do complete physical assessments of participants. Depending on the type of facility, individuals may be tested for blood pressure and heart rates, some measure of fatness, and for aerobic capacity (which measures heart rate, oxygen consumption and blood pressure during exercise). Some centers do lipid profiles, which measure fat levels in the blood.

"The key thing is you have people who are running the program that can start you out and check for medical risks," said Getchell. "For a person over 40, it would be wise to have an electrocardiogram done with trained professionals." Electrocardiograms test how the heart functions and show abnormalities that may limit what a person can safely do in an exercise program.

Van Handel cautions against expecting miracles after completing the camp. It takes a good exercise program over a period of time to reverse some of the negative physical traits, like stress and obesity, he said.

For those who can't find the time or money to go to a camp, Getchell offers the following exercise tips: Work out within your abilities and progress gradually. Commit to four or five days a week of activity and work out for 30 minutes to an hour, including warm-up and cool-down. Do a continuous, rhythmic type of exercise that requires constant energy to improve the efficiency of the heart such as walking, running, cycling or swimming. Be aware that sports such as tennis or golf may not get you into shape if they are only done a few times a week and are not rigorous enough. -- Wendy Melillo