The Athlete

Physical Fitness on a Budget: How to Shrink Yourself, Not Your Bank Account

As Americans are realizing that inactivity equals excess pounds, and excess pounds contribute to poor health and lower quality of life, many people are placing a higher premium on physical fitness. Unfortunately, this can also mean paying a higher premium – as in gym fees, personal trainer salaries, and the cost of expensive work-out equipment such as elliptical machines, treadmills, and weight-lifting accessories. However, recognize that not only is investing in your fitness and health worth it, but it does not have to cost you an arm and a leg (albeit a toned and muscular arm and leg).

Fitness Freebies and Cheapies

When you really think about it, there are plenty of ways to get in shape without spending a dime, and just as many ways to do it by spending minimal amounts of money. The last time I checked, one thing that’s still free in this country is the ability to walk (or jog, hop, skip, or run) down the street without being charged. When weather permits (and safety – it’s not a good idea to venture out alone in the dark or in high-crime areas) go ahead and pound the pavement. All you need are some sneakers. You might want to consider investing in a good pair if you plan to run or jog on a regular basis (experts recommend that avid runners replace their sneakers every six months).

Also in the free-of-charge department: swimming at public lakes, the beach, or community parks; playing with children or pets (all right, both of these will cost you money, but look at the exercise as an added bonus); shoveling snow; mowing the lawn and weeding the garden; even clenching your gluteus maximus muscles (rear end) in reps of 10 while sitting at the computer or watching television (this one may be a stretch, but hey, it’s free). Additionally, several exercise routines require little more than a chair to hold onto for balance and a floor mat to cushion you during sit-ups.

Several pieces of exercise equipment to use at home will cost you a very small monetary investment. These include dumbbells (they will usually cost anywhere from 25 to 50 cents per pound, so if you buy a set of 15-pounders, for example, you’re looking at $7.50 to $15); a jump rope (very portable as well as cost-effective; take it on vacation with you in your carry-on bag), resistance bands and medicine balls, and exercise videos, to name a few. More heavy-duty equipment like treadmills can still be yours for a discounted price – check eBay, the classified ads, or used sporting goods stores for a good deal.

Improvise Your Fitness Routine

Around-the-house items can double as weight-lifting aids. Canned goods can serve as small weights for a variety of arm exercises. Instead of chucking used milk containers or laundry detergent containers, fill them with water for some more intense weight-lifting improvisation.

Of course, belonging to a gym and having access to exercise classes and an array of equipment provides many people the motivation they need to get up and get moving. Some people are even motivated by the simple fact that they did lay out money to join a gym – they don’t want to see it go to waste. If you are such a person, be reassured: there are ways to conserve money and still belong to a gym.

Comparison shop for gyms with the best rates. Find out if any gyms in your area are running discounted sign-up specials or are going to in the near future. Check your health insurance benefits – more and more these days, insurers are understanding that obesity and overweight drive up healthcare costs in the long run. As incentive, your benefits program may offer a co-pay on gym membership (this is usually offered with the stipulation that you must attend the gym so many times per to trigger the benefit). And be a smart shopper: if you find a gym you’re interested in, find out if it offers a free trial period so that you can ensure it’s the right place for you before you sign half your paycheck away.

With a little creativity and improvisation, you can achieve physical fitness without having to re-finance your house or sell one of your kids. And if creativity isn’t your strong suit, use your investigative and bargaining skills to ferret out the best gym and used equipment deals in your area.