As much as we'd like to believe that chocolate cake and ice cream are the elixir for a long and healthy life, we know that's not the case. We also know that a regular exercise routine is one of the surest paths to a longer and healthier life. Some of us need a little push to keep and maintain a workout regimen. And joining a gym or fitness club may be just the incentive you need.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise every week -- but less than half of all Americans do so. And for the millions of people who would like to do better, this is often the time of year to consider joining a gym. We can all find lots of excuses for not getting our bodies in motion, but there's an equally compelling list of reasons why we should do so. Your health being the number one reason, or it should be!

Whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, tone up or improve your overall health, a New Year's resolutions are the No. 1 reason people of all fitness levels or types decide to join a fitness center or gym. Here are nine reasons why a gym membership is a really good idea, starting with the most obvious one.

1. Get Healthy
A gym encourages you to do a balanced program that includes both aerobic and strength training exercises. These promote both heart health and weight loss, helps prevent osteoporosis and improves muscle strength, balance and flexibility. If weight loss is a primary goal, consider the mantra of a friend of mine, who tells me "Nothing tastes as good as getting in shape feels!"

2. Find Support and Motivation
Some people really enjoy exercise; for others, it's a chore. If you fall into that latter group, being surrounded by other people who are in the same boat can provide the incentive you need to make exercise a part of your regular routine. Your initial intention might be to drag yourself to the gym twice a week, but once you find your rhythm, you may end up going on a more regular basis, which will help make your goals more attainable.

3. Get Stress Relief
According to the Mayo Clinic, virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever -- whether you're a serious athlete or an out of shape wannabe. Physical activity boosts the brain's production of endorphins, which simply makes us feel better physically and have a brighter emotional outlook. Exercise reduces tensions in both the body and the mind, which can improve your mood and the quality of your sleep. For many people, the gym becomes a bit of sanctuary where you can turn off the phone and forget all of the troubles at work or in your personal life.

4. Learn From the Pros
Many gyms now have professional trainers on staff -- often people with college degrees in sports science or other related fields, along with personal training certificates. They are trained to design exercise programs that fit your individual needs in a fun and safe way, showing you proper exercise techniques so that you don't hurt yourself while getting the most out of each exercise routine.

5. Sample the Variety
One of the big advantages a gym has over your guest room/home gym is the wide variety of weights, machines, exercise classes and don’t forget the companionship. This gives you the opportunity to try new exercise equipment and vary your routine. If you do the same workout day-in and day-out, your body builds a type of muscle memory and the gains you make are incrementally decreased. Fitness experts say that finding different ways to exercise the same muscles and muscle groups can improve the quality of your workout.

6. Learn From Each Other
Inevitably you'll see the people around you doing exercises that are new to you and may look sort of fun. You can certainly borrow and learn from others, but with this caveat: make sure you learn the proper technique so that you don't injure yourself. Just because someone else is doing something that looks interesting, doesn't mean that they know what they're doing or doing it right. On the other hand, most people are happy to share the knowledge they've acquired. Ask them what that exercise is meant to accomplish and about the proper form to go about it.

7. Sweat Together
Many people find exercise classes to be the most efficient and fun way to get a full body workout. You can do everything from Aqua Arthritis (where there's a pool) to Zumba, and from kickboxing to yoga. There's usually a very energetic leader to help provide you with some extra energy and motivation. Many people do have to get over the hump initially of being the class newbie, where it seems like you're the only one who doesn't know the right steps or positions, or the only man in a class of a dozen women. (Granted, that's not necessarily a problem for all men) Don't worry though. They are concentrating on their own form and not watching yours.

8. Check out the Holiday Deals
This is often the best time of year to join a gym because many of them are offering steep price discounts and incentives to join now. According to the International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association, a record 52.9-million Americans belonged to a health club last year, up more than 5 percent from the previous year. Most gyms offer a trial day or week to test out the gym. Take advantage of that to check out the atmosphere and the crowds. Most gyms also offer you a 30-day period during which you can change your mind and get out of the contract, but make sure you get that in writing. If you don't join just before or after the New Year, June and July are often the best months to find good deals.

9. Get Going
If you're serious about losing weight and getting in better shape, there's no better time to start than right now. The longer you put it off, the more excuses you'll come up with. And if one of your goals is to rock the swim suit next summer, you're going to need three to six months to see the gains. It doesn't happen overnight.

If you do decide to take the plunge and join a gym, you may want to consult with your doctor, just to make sure that certain exercise programs are not going to do more harm than good. And don't try to keep up on the first day with the very buff looking person working out nearby. Go slow at the start to avoid injuries, which can discourage you from returning to the gym next week.