Staying Fit: Cheap, Free, and Efficient Exercise

Author: Ms. Simple Economist (Awesome Mom and RD)

My second post, Woohoo! If you don’t know from my previous post, I am a registered dietitian and much of what I do deals with weight management, chronic disease prevention through nutrition, and giving people the information they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I am an advocate for real, whole foods and practicing moderation when it comes to fueling your body. Another big component to a healthy lifestyle is staying physically fit and engaging in exercise on a daily basis. Getting exercise every day can be easy and fun, and if done well you will look forward to it and even enjoy it. Plus, you don’t even need to pay a gym or a trainer to stay fit. If done efficiently, you can do a lot at home, outdoors, and using your own body weight.

My Favorite Exercise/Financial/Efficiency/Life Tip is: Ride a Bike, And more than just the yearly ride with a friend. Try biking a few of the solo trips you might traditionally make in a car. Consider transportation options the next time you move. Bikes don’t have to be expensive and you can get a nice, older road bike for $20-$100. You don’t need gas, get exercise everywhere you go, have no trouble parking, save money and tread lighter on the planet. It’s my favorite win-win. -Mr. Simple Economist


Breaking Through Common Barriers:

I Don’t Know Where to Start

  • Start small – Aim for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity. Don’t stress yourself out if you can’t workout everyday or you don’t get all of the 30 minutes in (however this shouldn’t become a consistent excuse!). The most important thing is getting your heart rate up, breaking a sweat and engaging all your core muscle groups.
  • Do something you enjoy – You don’t want exercise to become work or a burden you tend to avoid. Doing something you like will help kick start your motivation and you are more likely to stick with it. Try taking a few minutes and writing down all the active things you enjoy. Another tip is to alternate your workouts so you don’t get bored and quit. When you alternate what you are doing this works different muscle groups and allows your muscles to rest in between workouts. This will result in more calories burned and more sculpted/toned muscles as well!
  • Get organized and keep track – Set up a workout schedule. Know what days you are working out, what time, with whom, and what you are going to do on those days. This will help you keep track of your progress! Not only to get you excited about how much you have accomplished, but it can also help setting benchmarks for your next workout. Learn how to calculate your heart rate. Use a pedometer or track your progress with your smartphone.

It’s Too Expensive

  • Do things at home or outside before joining a gym – For most of us, a gym membership will end up eating a hole in our wallets or bank accounts. We get excited at first, going everyday, but then a month into it we find ourselves making excuses for not being able to go. It ultimately ends up being a waste of money and we don’t get fit. Double whammy! In order to get a good workout, we all have everything we need right at home: our own body. There are several cardio exercises that only require your two feet and a minimal amount of equipment: running, biking, dancing, recreational sports, yoga, doing housework, yard work, gardening, playing with your kids, and walking the dog. The choices are endless! Use your imagination and make it fun!
  • Strength Train without the machines – You want to engage your arm, leg and core muscles through strength training at least 3 days a week. Do you need a bench press, weight machines, or the whole set of dumbbells? Not necessarily. There are several things you can do without the equipment: crunches, sit-ups, push-ups, lunges, squats, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, planks, dips, etc. If you want to get some equipment the best thing to start out with would be a small set or adjustable dumbbells. Using these will allow you to do different types of arm exercises and can add extra weight when doing lunges and squats. Ever heard of Crossfit? It’s gotten a lot of hype lately, but for good reasons. It’s another style of workout that requires little, if no equipment. I would suggest Crossfit for the more advanced exerciser. Crossfit is a combination of varied functional movements at high intensity.
  • If you need a gym to get motivated – I realize some of us prefer a gym membership to get motivated for working out. Sometimes our homes, or doing things outdoors, just doesn’t cut it. We need to see others working out, smell the sweat, take aerobic classes with an instructor or workout in organized groups. If this describes you, but you still want to save a little bit of money, some options are getting a YMCA membership or joining the local community gym. These are usually much less expensive than most “big name gyms” and they provide childcare. If you absolutely have to go to one of the big name gyms then look to join in July or August.

It’s Too Much Of A Time Commitment

  • Make it something that will fit within your normal schedule – Some things to do during the work week: Park further away in parking lots, bike or walk to your office, take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a walk or run during your lunch break, or walk to your co-workers desk instead of emailing them. Many companies now have a wellness program and provide opportunities throughout the work week to engage in physical activity. Take advantage of these! After work and on weekends: play outside with your kids, go on a romantic walk with your spouse or find a buddy and play your favorite sport. You want to spend quality time with friends and family anyways, so why not do it outside instead of in front of the television or on the couch? Bike or walk to places less than 5 miles from your home. Make exercise part of your daily life.
  • You don’t have to do it all at once – Split up your 30 minutes of exercise into 10 minute intervals throughout the day. For example, bike 10 minutes to work, walk for 10 minutes during your lunch break, and do 10 minutes of strength training after work. To make things even easier, have your equipment ready to go: workout clothes laid out, shoes out, ipod with playlist set up, headphones, etc. New research has recently come out supporting brief, high intensity workouts. This includes engaging in three, 10 minute high-intensity workouts per week. Talk about little time commitment!

I’m Tired and Burning Out

  • Keep track of your workouts/reps – Know where you are on your numbers, whether miles walked or number of reps, and work to improve on those each time you workout.
  • Challenge yourself to go a little further – Learn how to push yourself. Working out really is a mental game most of the time. When you are hurting, it’s your mind telling you to stop. Instead of giving in, get in the “just one more” mentality. Go one more mile or do one more set of reps. Set a new benchmark for yourself. You will feel great and be much happier with yourself when you do.
  • Try something new – Typically the more seasoned exerciser will find themselves getting bored or hit a plateau and stop seeing results. If this sounds familiar, you may need to change your workout. You want to keep you muscles guessing what’s next. Start Crossfit, do a different type of aerobics class such as Zumba, sign up for a race (triathlon, 5K 10K, ½ or full marathon), get a trainer who will challenge you, try P90X or Insanity. Trying something different will change your mindset about exercise, get you out of a rut, and you may even find something you really enjoy.

Staying Motivated
The best motivation: An Accountability Partner. This can be a friend, spouse, coworker, family member, etc. This is someone who depends on you to meet them to workout and vice versa. This person knows your workout goals and will challenge you. I have found when I make plans to meet someone or know that someone is counting on me, I am more likely to follow through. Also, when others are aware of your goals they can provide much needed support and encouragement.

Another big one: Incentivize It! Reward yourself with something you enjoy if you finish your workout or achieve a big milestone in your exercise routine or weight goal. Bet your spouse or boyfriend you’ll workout every day for a week and put a 30 Minute back rub on the line. Some other examples could be: going to a movie, getting a new book, cooking a favorite dish, getting a new outfit, etc. It’s best to not reward with high calorie foods (desserts/snacks/overeating), which can end up putting you back right where you started.

Our Favorite Exercises
By far my favorite is running and Mr. SE loves his bike. I used to hate running until a few friends motivated me to give it a try and sign up for a race. Running is simple, it doesn’t require any equipment, and I always feel good afterwards. We often sign up for races if I feel like I’ve gotten in an exercise rut. Some others I enjoy: P90x and Crossfit. After these workouts I always feel amazing and I am sweating profusely (this could also be attributed to the fact that we don’t run our air conditioner that much). These are a really good supplement for those days I don’t feel like going out for a run, biking, or it’s raining. I do these right in our living room and it doesn’t take that much time. The specific ones that I like the best: For P90X I like the Ab RipperX, CardioX, and Plyo and for Crossfit I really enjoy it all because it’s so high intensity, but the Burpee is an awesome move that works the whole body. Also, I purchased a couple of 5Lb and 8Lb dumbbells that I use for my routine arm exercises. When it comes to recreational sports, my all time favorite is tennis. I have played since high school and it’s always been my go-to sport to play.

Staying physically fit can be easy, fun, and efficient! Save time and money by doing it at home or in the great outdoors. All you have to do is grab some shoes, step outside and go. Make it part of your daily schedule, keep track of what you are doing, and challenge yourself with something new. Exercise is good for you! So, grab your workout buddy and get out there, you don’t have any excuses now. But remember, exercise isn’t the only part of the equation. Make sure you eat real, whole foods and remove stress from your life. Making little investments in these areas will give you the healthy lifestyle you’ve been wanting.



6 thoughts on “Staying Fit: Cheap, Free, and Efficient Exercise

  1. Great post Kali 🙂
    I am enjoying reading your blog Stephen, it is insightful and interesting. I am glad you are writing down some of your thoughts on money and efficiency!

  2. Great post. You had mentioned Crossfit, something that I am about to begin next week. Although it is definitely expensive, from what I can tell it is extremely beneficial for overall health. Have you ever done it? Any suggestions? Seems like they push the Paleo diet on you pretty hard.

    • Crossfit is pretty awesome. I suppose it is pretty broad, but most people associate it with crossfit affiliated gyms. We mostly do crossfit workouts (which are available online everyday) at home or at our town’s university gym. We have a lot of friends who have joined gyms for the camaraderie and support. It can also be good training to have someone teach you all the different workouts and then you can do 90% at home with little or no equipment.

      We don’t follow a specific paleo diet (more of a ‘whole foods’ diet) but there is a strong component to diet that helps elite crossfitters succeed.

  3. *Update: After a few days of Crossit i) it works and ii) it s*cks. It is definitely a beating and waking up at 5am to do it is painful in its own right. That being said, you definitely get that feeling of accomplishment after the workout-of-the-day (WOD) is finished and you guzzle water and a protein bar while fighting the morning commute. Definitely a nice change of pace from the lifting and jogging workouts I’ve haphazardly done in the past.

  4. Hi, As you have mentioned in 1st point “Do things at home or outside before joining a gym” under the sub-heading (It’s Too Expensive). You are right. I left the gym just because of extra burden on my pocket…and we always ignore that point before making decision to join a gym… thanks great post