WHO NEEDS another cable-knit sweater? You know you'll use it only to hide your winter flab, anyway. On your wish list this year, why not ask Santa for something to make you healthier, happier and more ripped?
To help with ideas, here's my ultimate fitness wish list, arranged by price from stocking stuffers to "Santa is my sugar daddy" extravagances.
* An ab wheel. While it may not sound like the season's must-have stocking stuffer, this is the gift that will give you the abs that you've always wanted while simultaneously toning your shoulders and arms. Point Santa to a sporting goods store or a big-box retailer, where he'll pay about $9.
(Note to gift givers: Never buy fitness gear - or sessions with a personal trainer - unless your significant other asks for it specifically. And repeatedly. Trust me, a surprise ab wheel will not go over well!)
* A jump rope. Jumping rope is one of the simplest and most effective exercises there is. Just 15 to 20 minutes' worth gives you an unparalleled total body workout. Santa can pick up your jump rope with the ab wheel, since he's already parked the sled. A good jump rope runs $10 to $40.
* An AquaJogger. This fun-to-use foam belt suspends you in water. Use it with other in-water gear (dumbbells, leg weights, arm weights) to give yourself any level of workout, from an easy-paced, no-impact jog to a full-body resistance-training regimen. They start at about $45. The online swim store kiefer.com is a trustworthy retailer. Your local YMCA also may sell them.
* A smart food scale. The Salter Nutritional Scale is my personal favorite. If you've resolved to eat smarter and learn proper portions, go ahead and ask for one - and never mind the strange looks you get from family members when you open the box Christmas morning. This little baby weighs and tracks what you eat, automatically calculating calories, fat, cholesterol, fiber, protein, sodium and carbohydrates. Amazon has them for about $45.
* A hard-core heart-rate monitor. The Polar FT1 ($70) is an attractive, James Bond-ish wrist monitor that will help you stick to your target heart rate and really optimize your workout. Upgrade to the FT2 ($90) for more color options. Santa can find them online at shoppolar.com - how appropriate!
* A smart pedometer. I recommend the sleek and sophisticated FitBit (various models, starting at $99.95) for wellness walkers who are aiming for the recommended 10,000 steps a day. This product is beautiful, can feed fitness data to your iPhone and even helps track sleep patterns so you can learn to rest better. Sold at fitbit.com and elsewhere.
* A Bodum cast-iron wok. This is my favorite for healthful stir-fries - and poaching - because in addition to cooking food beautifully, it also adds iron to your diet. (Women tend to need more, men should check with their doctor.) A pre-seasoned, stick-resistant surface reduces the amount of fat needed for cooking. Sold at kitchen stores and online for about $100.
* Gym membership. You can go bare bones for less than $150 a year or full-service for $400-plus. Either way, when you ask Santa for a gym membership, ask for one at a facility that's no more than a mile or two from home. You're much more likely to use the gym regularly if it's right nearby.
* Dance lessons. Both belly dancing and ballroom dancing are a ton of fun and offer a great workout, too. For belly dancing, I like Studio 1831 (18th and Brandywine, studio1831.com). For ballroom, consider the Society Hill Dance Academy (409 S. 2nd St., societyhilldance.com). Ten group lessons at either spot cost about $150.
* A new, coordinated workout ensemble. Imagine that - workout clothes that match! If I were you, I'd ask Santa for a Nike ensemble, since I find that brand to be the Timex of fitness apparel: It takes a licking and keeps on looking good, wash after wash after wash. Santa will probably pay $150 to $200. (You're worth it.)
* Rock-climbing lessons. The Philadelphia rock-climbing gym Go Vertical (950 N. Penn St.) is a high-tech adult playground, with 13,500 square feet of climbing surfaces, 230 climbing routes and walls up to 48 feet high. A three-month adult membership for $195 could be your antidote to the winter blahs.
* A super juicer. Serious raw-juicers will appreciate the Breville Die-Cast Juice Fountain Elite, which is easy to use and easy to clean up - a huge improvement over juicers from Christmases past. About $300 at Macy's, Bed Bath & Beyond and elsewhere.
* A top-of-the-line treadmill. Warning: Now entering sugar-daddy territory. For a dedicated runner or a walking enthusiast, a state-of-the-art treadmill is heaven. A high-quality model will minimize the impact to your joints and your back, and feature snazzy computer animation, a variety of workouts and gadgetry like built-in heart-rate monitors. My personal favorite is the LifeFitness line (lifefitness.com). Santa will pay $2,000 and up.
* Your very own elliptical trainer. Ellipticals have become the most popular cardiovascular machine at the gym, by far, because of the comfortable workout they provide - with minimal impact to knees, hips and feet. The Rolls-Royce here is the Precor (precor.com). Does Santa love you, baby? Gym-quality Precor ellipticals start at $15,000.