Fitness for less: Low-cost ways to shape up

Want to work out but think you can't afford it? Think again. Consider these low-cost alternatives to a pricey gym membership.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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. You can find ways to include aerobic activity and strength training in your routine at home. Plenty of low-cost alternatives can help you get fit without breaking your budget. These tips can help you get started.

Take advantage of everyday opportunities

You don't need a gym or special equipment for an aerobic workout. Any aerobic exercise, from walking to mowing the lawn, can have benefits. Aim to include at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity in your day on most days of the week. This can even be done in short bursts of activity during the day. 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 in your neighborhood or a local mall, or on a break from work. 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 housework a workout. Weed the garden, rake the leaves or shovel the snow. And indoor activities such as vacuuming, sweeping and scrubbing count as a workout if you increase your heart rate.
  • Play with your kids. 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. Do your kids play video games? If so, plug in with them and swing a virtual tennis racket or do a little boxing.

Improvise by using household items or your body weight

Aim to include strength training exercises for all major muscle groups in your routine at least two days a week. If you'd rather not spend money on exercise equipment or a gym membership, use ordinary household items or your body weight for various upper and lower body strength training exercises:

  • Canned goods. Many canned goods can serve double duty as hand weights.
  • Chair or step stool. Use a chair for support when doing exercises such as leg curls. A low, sturdy step stool can become exercise equipment if you use it for step training — an aerobic exercise resembling stair climbing.
  • Use your body. You don't need to go to the gym and lift weights to increase your muscular fitness. Use your body weight to do weight training exercises and resistance training. For example, try situps, pushups, squats and lunges.

Consider a modest investment

If you're able to spend a little, you can find inexpensive products to add variety to your fitness routine such as:

  • Free weights. Use hand-held weights to strengthen your upper body. They're available in many weight ranges, and some are adjustable to permit a wide range of resistance.
  • Exercise DVDs and apps. Create the feel of a health club aerobics class in your own living room by using exercise DVDs or online videos. Or choose a program or app that will help you improve your strength and flexibility, or one that will keep track of your distance and time as you exercise.
  • Fitness ball. A fitness ball, sometimes called a stability 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.

    BOSU balls can also be used to improve your balance. These are similar to fitness balls but have a flat, stable base.

  • Medicine ball. A medicine ball is a weighted ball made of rubber or leather. Medicine balls are available in many sizes. You can do many exercises with a medicine ball, such as core exercises and calisthenics.
  • Kettlebell. A kettlebell is a round weight with the handle attached at the top. A kettlebell can be used to do strength training exercises and to help improve grip strength. Kettlebells are available in many sizes.
  • Jump-ropes. Skipping rope can be a great cardiovascular workout.
  • 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.

Be a savvy shopper

If you're interested in a specific exercise class or piece of equipment, shop around to find the best deal.

  • 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 DVDs or online exercise video ideas 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.

Remember, getting in shape doesn't need to be expensive. Don't get caught up in memberships or purchases you can't afford. Instead, focus on your fitness goals and how to achieve them without breaking your budget.

Sept. 16, 2020 See more In-depth

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