If the only thing keeping you from starting a fitness program is the cost of a gym membership, here's good news. You don't need to join a gym to take physical activity seriously. Plenty of low-cost alternatives can help you get fit without breaking your budget. Consider these four tips to help you get started.
1. Take advantage of everyday opportunities
You don't necessarily need special equipment for an aerobic workout. With a little foresight, activities you may take for granted can become part of your fitness routine.
- Step it up. Take a brisk walk every day, whether it's a path through your neighborhood or laps in a local mall. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or make a full workout of climbing the stairs. Sneak in extra steps whenever you can by parking farther away from your destination.
- Make a workout of household chores. Mow the lawn, weed the garden, rake the leaves or shovel the snow. Even indoor activities such as vacuuming and scrubbing count as a workout if you increase your heart rate.
- Join in the fun. If you have children, don't just watch them play. Join them for a game of tag or kickball. Walk them to the park. Dance. Take a family bike ride. Go to a community pool. Even if you don't swim, you can enjoy time in the water or walk in the shallow end.
2. Consider modest investments
If you're looking for fitness bargains, these inexpensive fitness products may be a good bet:
- Dumbbells. Dumbbells are small, hand-held weights that you can use to strengthen your upper body. They're available in many sizes.
- Resistance tubing. These stretchy tubes offer weight-like resistance when you pull on them. Use the tubes to build strength in your arms and other muscles. Choose from varying degrees of resistance, depending on your fitness level.
- Jump-ropes. Skipping rope can be a great cardiovascular workout.
- Fitness ball. A fitness ball looks like a large beach ball. You can do many core exercises, including abdominal crunches, with a fitness ball. You can also use a fitness ball to improve your flexibility and balance.
- Exercise videos, DVDs or podcasts. Create the feel of a health club aerobics class in your own living room — or choose a program that'll help you improve your strength and flexibility. Pick a program that matches your current fitness level and is endorsed by a certified fitness instructor.
If you're able to make a slightly bigger investment, you might consider video games that are designed to get you moving. Depending on the software and game system, you may be able to plug in and dance, swing a virtual tennis racket, practice yoga, improve your strength and flexibility, and more.
If you'd rather not spend a penny on exercise equipment, use ordinary household items for various upper and lower body exercises:
- Canned goods. Many canned goods can serve double duty as hand weights.
- Milk or water jugs. Fill empty milk or water jugs with water or sand and secure the tops with duct tape. To adjust the weights as your fitness level changes, simply add more water or sand. If you wonder how much weight you're lifting, weigh the jug on your household scale.
- Step stools. A low, sturdy step stool can become exercise equipment if you use it for step training — an aerobic exercise resembling stair climbing.
4. Be a savvy shopper
If you're interested in a specific exercise class or piece of equipment, shop around.
- Check out your local recreation department. Many recreation departments offer discounted fitness classes to local residents. If you live near a high school or college with a fitness center, ask if the facility is available to community members.
- Buy used equipment. Some sporting goods stores specialize in used equipment — or you can check out listings for exercise equipment in the local newspaper. You may also find great deals on used exercise equipment online. Just make sure the cost of shipping won't put the item out of your budget.
- Share costs with a friend. Trade exercise videos or DVDs with a friend so that neither of you gets bored doing the same workout over and over again. Find a personal trainer who'll let you share the cost of a session with a friend or two.
- Know what to avoid. Some fitness products aren't worth buying, no matter how low the price. For example, don't buy herbal supplements or other products that claim fitness benefits overnight or promise to melt away pounds without diet and exercise.
Remember, getting in shape doesn't need to be expensive. Don't get caught up in memberships or purchases you can't afford. Instead, concentrate on your fitness goals — and how to achieve them without breaking your budget.
Last Updated: 2010-08-19