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Fitness on a Budget: How To Exercise on the Cheap

You don’t need to spend big money on better health

Person holding digital tablet with workout routine video playing

Fitness is an investment — but it doesn’t have to be a monetary one. There is no need for costly gym memberships or expensive, high-tech contraptions. You can break a sweat without breaking the bank.

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So, how can you get buff on a budget? Exercise physiologists Christopher Travers, MS, and Chris Dempers, ACSM EP-C, have ideas.

Lower-cost exercise equipment

Here are a few equipment and program options to keep you and your finances healthy. (Spoiler alert: The list includes some freebies!)

Walking shoes

Walking is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy. Research shows that walking for 30 minutes a day ­— yes, just walking — can reduce your risk of heart disease and other life-shortening conditions.

But what’s good for your ticker may not be pleasant for your feet if you don’t have proper footwear, says Travers.

Logging miles in flimsy shoes can lead to injuries in your feet, ankles, knees and hips — a reality that works against a “get healthy” goal. Aches and pains from bad gear will not exactly encourage activity.

So, invest in walking shoes to make your tootsies happy. A running shop or sporting goods store can get you fitted for shoes offering the support you need.

A good pair of shoes can range from $60 to … well, as much you’d want to spend, as specialized shoes can get pricey. Yes, it’s a cost consideration — but those shoes will serve you well for 400 miles. (That’s only 15¢ per mile at the low end of the price scale!)

And unless your life is spent barefoot on a beach, you’re already buying shoes to get around town, right? So, get a pair you can walk in.

Dumbbells or kettlebells

Strength training is key to maintaining bone density and improving balance and coordination. But getting those benefits doesn’t require a weight rack filled with hundreds of pounds of expensive iron.

Instead, focus on reps and targeted exercise using smaller (and more economical) dumbbells and kettlebells.

“You don’t need a lot of weight to build muscle,” says Dempers. “There’s a lot you can accomplish doing higher repetition exercise with dumbbells and kettlebells ranging from five to 25 pounds.”

Start with lower weights and build strength through more reps. Slowly increase the load or workout time as you feel more comfortable. Focus on form, too. Awkward posture can lead to injuries.

Depending on weight and design, these weights may range in cost from $10 to $75. They’re extremely versatile in workouts. Their small size also makes them relatively easy for at-home storage.

Exercise balls

Exercising can be a real balancing act. Want proof? Spend some time on an inflated exercise ball.

Workouts atop these giant orbs can strengthen your abdominal muscles, back and hips, explains Travers. “They’ll also help you improve your balance and agility,” he says. “Plus, they’re great for stretching.”

And as a bouncy ball, they also can be pretty fun to use.

You can buy an exercise ball for under $10, though there are more expensive options. Again, check online for numerous free workout routines.

Online exercise videos

When it comes to video workouts, there’s something for everyone online. Lifting, Pilates, yoga, kickboxing … even dance.

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Trying different programs and exercises can add variety to your routines. Working different muscles can help protect you from overuse injuries that come from doing the same old thing day after day, too.

But here’s the best news of all: Many of these online workout videos are FREE. (How’s that for being budget-friendly?)

“Your only investment is the time searching,” says Travers.

No-equipment-needed exercises

All the weight you need for a muscle-burning strength workout is on your body.

Old-school calisthenic exercises such as push-ups, crunches, squats, lunges and leg lifts require no “extra” equipment to do. Ditto for burpees, a brutally efficient and intense workout option.

Each of these body-weight exercises uses your pounds to challenge your muscles. Routines like the 7-minute workout combine various maneuvers into one high-intensity session.

“You can build strength and endurance and burn calories just by utilizing the body you’ve been given,” says Dempers. “You do three sets of 10 reps of any of these exercises and I guarantee you’ll get your heart rate up.”

Best of all, these body-weight exercises come with no upfront costs. Just throw on some comfy workout clothes and you’re good to go. (If you want to get fancy, spend a couple of dollars on an exercise mat to put on the floor.)

Suspension trainers

If you’re willing to spend a few bucks, a suspension trainer can take body-weight exercises to another level. This inexpensive training system of straps, handles and anchors uses your body weight plus gravity to increase workout difficulty.

The system works your body harder by removing the stability of the floor or a bench, says Dempers. That’s because you’re suspended in the air while doing exercises, which puts added demands on your core muscles.

The system can be attached to door frames or mounted on walls or the ceiling. It requires minimal space, which makes it ideal for a home setup. Various workouts can be found online.

Basic suspension training systems cost as little as $40. More elaborate systems run more.

The biggest savings of all

Dropping a few dollars on equipment to stay fit can help keep cash in your wallet. The reason? Physical inactivity is a leading cause of many expensive (and preventable) diseases and health conditions.

One study estimated that a lack of exercise may lead to $520 billion worth of direct healthcare costs globally by 2030.

So, spending a few dollars upfront may save you in the long run. “Most exercises are easily accessible and affordable, too,” notes Travers. “It doesn’t matter if you spend a lot of money on working out. It’s more important that you do it and do it often.”

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