Stay Fit Without Breaking Your Budget

woman doing crunches at homeThis is usually the month when fitness clubs are crowded with new exercisers as well as current members who've pledged to increase their workout frequency. Financial realities, however, may short-circuit some of those good intentions this year.

"With the economic issues that are going on, a lot of people are cutting back on personal training sessions and gym memberships," says Ashley Marriott, a Los Angeles trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Exercise services such as gyms and trainers "are usually the first thing to go out of the budget," she adds.

While many women go to the gym frequently and benefit from the regular physical activity they get there, others don't use their memberships enough to make them worth keeping. Yet, being physically active is definitely a must-do for your health and well-being.

You can start a fitness program, or continue being active, without spending a lot of money. These budget-friendly approaches will help you increase your physical activity, build strength and burn calories for little or no cost:

1. Trade the gym for your home or workplace. By moving activity to your everyday environment, you gain time flexibility with no expense. Think small sessions—for 5 or 10 minutes—three or more times on most days. When TV commercials come on, get up and walk briskly or jog around the room or in place for a few minutes. (In northern areas, this will also help warm you up in winter!) Take short walks on your lunch hour, indoors or outside. Even a two-minute walk break will add to your physical activity level. For other ways to squeeze exercise into small bits of time for free, check out this advice.

You don't need expensive equipment or lots of space to make a home or office gym work for you. For $10 or less, you can gain strength-building resistance with exercise tubes, bands or weighted hand-held balls. These small items can be kept nearby easily, under a table or desk, so they're available when you need them. Use a stability ball (55 centimeters or larger) for your core, back and gluteal muscles, says Marriott, who is coauthor (with Marc L. Paulsen, MD) of Dump Your Trainer and creator of a series of dance fitness DVDs. For added cardiovascular work, she advises lifting a small medicine ball (4 pounds is a popular size for women) overhead while doing squats. Both balls can be purchased for under $20.

Check your readiness for physical activity here, and use this self-assessment test for endurance to judge what level of exercise intensity is right for you.