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A list of tips for cautious consumers

You've seen the ads: Glistening, chiseled bodies with the promise that you too can look this way if you only use - fill in the blank -- this machine, this supplement, this workout. And all in only 10 minutes a day, no less.

One thing for sure, your wallet will be a lot lighter after you fork over the money, even if you're not. The problem is, some of these products may actually help you lose weight and get in shape if you use them correctly. So, how to do know which products really do hold promise?

Here's a list of tips from the American Council on Exercise to help you make practical decisions:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Spot reduction is a myth. It's impossible to lose the fat on only one part of your body, such as your stomach, thighs or butt. The only answer is to exercise regularly and eat sensibly.
  • Be critical. Be wary of fitness products that promise huge calorie burning or effortless results.
  • Read the fine print. Those wonderful advertised results may be based on way more than just using that exercise machine. Take the time to read the fine print: "To get results you must combine the use of this product with a diet and exercise program." Or, "Results are not typical."
  • Be skeptical of testimonials. Sure, the before-and-after photos may be impressive, but the odds are their results are not typical.
  • The models are just that, models. The men and women you see working out in the infomercial most likely didn't get ripped abs from exercising with the equipment they're selling. You can take that to the bank.
  • Try before you buy. Unfortunately, that's almost impossible with infomercials. They may say things like, "satisfaction or your money back" and "risk free for 30 days." But the reality is with most return policies you have to pay for all shipping and handling, which could be $50-$100 each way.
  • Be wary of expert endorsements. The so-called experts are usually paid to support the infomercial's claims and they often use "junk science" to trick you with distorted study results.
  • Do the math. Take the time to calculate the actual price when you read statements like "three easy payments of ..." or "only $49.95 a month." And remember, the advertised cost may not include sales tax and shipping and handling fees.

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