Never mind that some of the faithful head directly from the gym to the orthopedic ward or the refrigerator. Never mind that many people don't even start until they look like brontosauruses.
The plain fact is that exercise has become a growth industry.
By latest count, 63 schools, clubs and groups in the Washington area offer organized exercise programs for adults. Cheaters still congratulate themselves for the calories they expend at touch typing or pinochle. But the true exercise bees are busy, and they disdain excuses.
Janice Moore makes no excuses, and needs none. Not only is her midriff Sahara-flat, but she is, if you will, a quickening pulsebeat on the Washington exercise scene.
A recent refugee from California, where she taught at a fabled "fat farm" called The Golden Door, Moore is trying to interest Washington workaholics in the "be-nice-to-yourself" philosophy that's so big in Freewayland.
So far, so booming. She has more than 60 students at ten weekly classes. One of the largest is her Tuesday night "Joy of Fitness" get-together, held in the olive-drab gymnasium of Immaculata College in Northwest Washington.
Two things are striking about the class. One is that all the students look pretty fit already. Two is that they have no objection to paying $5 a week to roll around on a basketball court, when running around the block a couple of times would cost nothing.
Nine women constitute the class. It begins at 6:30 p.m., intentionally. That's just enough time to flee the office, shed the workaday clothes, don a leothard and jeans and get to Immaculata.
The class ends at 8 p.m., also intentionally. "You don't feel like eating for at least two hours afterwards," explained Paula Eisenstein, 28. "So if you're in bed by 10, you can avoid eating dinner."
But the thrust of the Moore Method is exercise, not weight loss. "My class is en-er-gi-zing," says Moore, drawing out the last word like an escapee from an enunciation class.
"The purpose is to feel good. I do not promise that they'll lose weight (most don't). I do not promise that they'll lose inches (most don't). I do promise that they'll feel better (most do)."
To Moore, the battle is just as much for the mind as the muscles. So she uses light rock music in the background, not metronomes or marches. And she exhorts her charges with tidbits like, "Think nice thoughts," since, as Moore says, she has "never seen a drill instructor get the job done."
The gamut of exercise runs from the stretchy to the strengthening.
The first maneuver, a warm-up, is aimed at loosening neck muscles. Moore and her class stand rock-steady and simply tilt their heads, chin to chest, then chin to sky.
Then come the legs. For about five minutes, the students wrap their arms around themselves and hop in place. They look like wayward souls waiting for the bus on a cold morning.
Lots of upper-body stretching follows - toe touching, side-to-side reaching, arching to one side and the other. All the while, Moore is reminding her students to exhale. She believes this relaxes her students and keeps them from getting tired. It seems to work.
The killer is leg raises. Lying on their backs, the students hold their legs straight out in front of them, first at 90 degrees to the floor, then at 45, finally at (ouch) 30.
"Those are (puff) hard, I (puff) know," says Moore. "It hurts me as much as it hurts you." The class groans with skepticism (is it pain?). But they hang in there and finish.
The finale is a short series of isometrics, to the tune of "I Got Rhythm." As they don their jeans again, the class seems sorry that it's over for another week.
"When you walk out of here, you feel it everywhere," said Kathy Miller, 26, a transportation analyst for the U.S. Railway Association. "But that's the idea. I have more energy throughout the evening."
But why pay? "It's misery loving company," said Chris Cuttler, 27, a revenue officer for the Internal Revenue Service. "It's also disciplining. Very disciplining," said Amy Sabrin, 27, an editor for the Associated Press.
Some class members came to redress specific ills.
"I had no stamina," said Peggy Shaw, a 23-year-old secretary. "I had a baby three months ago," said Linda Russell, 30. "I wanted to get active again."
And some came to keep alive a pattern they set years before.
"You have to make exercise a party of your life," said Paula Eisenstein, a translator and interpreter who studied with Moore in California and followed her here. "I made that decision a long time ago because I had a weight problem for a long time. "I'd do this every night if I could."
As she packed up her records and turntable, nice Moore was musing. "I'm thinking of calling class 'Feeling Good, Looking Good,'" she said. "Everybody thinks you leave a fitness class exhausted. you do not leave this class exhausted."
As if to punctuate that, nine students were across still the gym, chatting and dressing. Not only were they still standing, but they looked ruddy and ready, and one-up on the rest of us alibi artists.