If you want to beat back the ticking clock of age, exercise is one of the cheapest and most-effective investments you can make, both for your health and for your bottom line. People who exercise regularly are simply healthier.
People who exercised at a moderate tempo for just 2.5 hours a week (or at a high intensity for 1.25 hours a week) added 3.4 years to their lives, a National Cancer Institute study found. More exercise added more years, but even doing half the recommended exercise added an average of 1.8 years.
There’s no need to spend big money — or any money at all — to get benefits that include strength, resistance to illness, psychological resilience, increased productivity at work and even higher earnings.
Exercise is like a cheap, super-effective medicine for many ailments. Active people are less likely to get coronary heart disease, for example, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Exercise also helps people:
- Manage a healthy weight.
- Lower high blood pressure.
- Cut the risk of chronic illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart attack and some types of cancer.
- Counteract arthritis pain and joint stiffness.
- Reduce or manage depression and anxiety.
- Reduce the risk of osteoporosis and falls.
Exercise also can put money in your pocket:
- Participating in exercise and sports is associated with higher earnings, according to researcher Michael Lechner in a study in the Journal of Labor Economics.
- Workers who exercise regularly lose fewer work days to illness. “Those absences can translate to lost income and lost opportunities for advancement,” points out Time Magazine.
- Regular exercise ramps up productivity at work, according to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The one thing exercise doesn’t fix
Contrary to what we’ve all heard, one thing exercise doesn’t affect much is weight loss. “[E]xercise consumes far fewer calories than many people think,” The New York Times says. Eating less seems to be the most-effective path to weight loss.
The costs of inactivity
On the flip side, inactivity is expensive. Disability from poor health cuts careers short, forcing workers into early, unwanted and low-income retirements. Also, Johns Hopkins says that inactivity can add to feelings of anxiety and depression and may raise the risk of certain cancers.
Get your money’s worth from the gym
The average cost of joining a gym is $58 a month, according to Statistics Brain. But 67 percent of gym members don’t use their passes at all and, on average, members waste $39 of their monthly fee by going too seldom to get their money’s worth.
16 cheap ways to get moving
You don’t have to put out much money — or any at all — to get the benefits of exercise. Here are 16 low-cost and no-cost ways to get moving:
1. Community centers
Find out if your city or county has a department of recreation. Residents of Montgomery County, Maryland, for instance, can choose among classes in dance (hip hop, ballroom, international and square dance), tai chi chuan, yoga, qi gong, aquatics programs, martial arts and indoor walking programs. Many cities and counties sponsor adult softball, soccer and basketball leagues.
2. Community colleges
State community colleges may offer great deals on exercise through their course catalogs. Look for inexpensive outdoor trips, fitness center memberships and classes like yoga, aerobics, dance, kayaking, bicycling and weight training.
3. YMCA, YWCA and Jewish community centers
You don’t need to be Christian or Jewish to join these great organizations that offer sports, fitness facilities, classes and aquatics programs to adults, seniors and children at low or moderate cost. Search online for a Y or JCC near you.
Houses of worship, churches in particular, often offer fitness classes. Some larger congregations support gyms and extensive recreational programs. Christianity Today reports on the boom in church-based group fitness activities. Search online for your city’s name plus terms like church and fitness or sports. Phone ahead to ask about classes, costs and whether church participation or membership is expected.
5. Your HSA/FSA account
Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts let employees set aside money before taxes to use for certain qualified medical expenses. (The difference: HSAs let you roll any leftover money to the following year; FSAs do not.) Your gym membership fee may be an eligible expense if prescribed by a physician. The doc also must include a statement that the treatment is medically necessary.
6. Workplace wellness programs
Some companies are paying their employees to get fit through workplace wellness programs, Time Magazine writes. About three-quarters of companies that responded to The Society for Human Resource Management’s survey said they provide wellness initiatives, policies or programs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells how to help start one.
7. Fitness at work
Some employers offer on-site fitness classes and facilities. Or they help pay gym fees. If your employer isn’t on board with fitness offerings, it’s a benefit worth looking for next time you are job-shopping.
8. Your health plan
A growing number of medical benefits plans offer free or discounted health club or gym memberships. For example, United Healthcare subscribers whose companies enroll in UnitedHealthcare Small Business Wellness can be reimbursed up to $240 a year for using national gyms, health clubs and fitness centers. Medicare supplemental insurance plans also may include membership in Silver Sneakers, a program that encourages fitness participation (see if you qualify).
8. Walk, bike, hike, run
The most-popular forms of exercise are simple, cheap activities that can be done solo: 61 percent of Americans polled by researchers for Timex, the watch-maker, do not use a gym. They preferred:
- Running (18 percent).
- Weights (13 percent).
- Biking, hiking and outdoor activities (13 percent).
P.S. Download free podcasts to listen to while you’re exercising to make your workout time fly.
9. Collect exercise CDs
Many exercisers don’t have the time to suit up and go outside, never mind get to the gym. Homebodies get great workouts from videos, a cheap source of instruction, inspiration and variety. From dance aerobics to yoga to weight-lifting and beyond, you’ll find video instructions. Check out videos free from your public library or buy them cheap at thrift stores and garage sales.
10. Watch free videos
If you haven’t yet discovered the wealth of free instructional videos on YouTube, you’ll be delighted. Start with searches like “best home exercise routine,” “home workouts,” “cardio dance routine,” “beginner workouts,” and the like. As soon as you are bored, find a new routine.
11. Buy used exercise equipment
Why pay thousands of dollars for new exercise equipment when you can get it for a few hundred dollars by shopping garage sales, Craigslist and thrift stores. Even though you’re not spending much, the logistics and labor of getting a heavy piece of equipment home can be considerable. Before you go, spend some time online researching what you’re looking for. A good place to start: Consumer Reports’ test of 40 exercise machines, with recommendations.
12. Sign up for a marathon
Yes, you! The commitment and inspiration involved in training for and running a half or full marathon changes people’s lives. If you stick to events close to home to avoid the cost of travel and lodging, you can expect to pay less than $100 to sign up for smaller marathons or $150 to $300 for big city marathons, says About.com, which breaks down the rest of the costs involved. Tip: If you’re running on the cheap, you can go with thrift store clothes and gear. But buy good running shoes, buy them new and replace them regularly.
13. Track your steps
Pedometers measure your steps as you take them. Watching the steps and miles roll by keeps many an exerciser moving. You can go high-end and get one of the popular tracking bracelets or you can get a pedometer free: Download free pedometer smartphone apps from Google Play or Apple’s App Store. Read users’ reviews before downloading a product. Or look for a free pedometer. Often hospitals, doctors offices and clinics, workplaces and drug stores give them away. You’ll find pedometers for a few dollars at LowCostPedometer.
14. Do it for charity
Motivation is the key to finding an activity you like and will stick with. Many exercisers get motivated by raising funds for a cause they believe in, making charity runs, walks and rides a great way to get moving. (Plus, once you announce your plan and start raising pledges, you’ve pretty much got to follow through.)
There’s something oddly attractive about suffering and sweating for a cause, writes Nicola Beddow, founder of the Race for Hope 5k Run/Walk. There are charity events for all abilities. Beddow lists the top five fundraising sports events.
15. Just start moving
Moving is addictive. The more you move, the more you want to move. Moving makes you feel bouncier, happier and more energetic. One way to get going is by making your daily life more active. No doubt you’ve seen advice on parking farther from work or the store so you’ll walk more. Daily life presents plenty of other opportunities: Push a lawnmower, use the stairs, shovel snow, or put on some music and use your whole body (not just your arms) when doing housework.
16. Involve the family
Make no mistake: It’s more effort to get everyone in your family moving than just getting out on your own. But involving everyone at least some of the time pays off in the long run: Instead of fighting your family’s sluggish habits to make time for your workouts, you’ll enjoy their support and companionship.
Start small, taking kids (or grandkids) and your spouse for short walks on weekends or after work. Having a destination makes it easier, too. Head for the park, the library or hoof it to the grocery store to pick up a few items.
What are your secrets for staying active, or obstacles that keep you on the couch? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.