Saving Your Money and Your Health: Part II

No one likes to hit the gym, but for many, it's a necessity. Some people do it to lose weight. Some people do it for rehab. Others go for the Meet Market. Whatever it takes to get you to go, that's fine. Either way, you'll feel more energetic, get stronger, and in the long run, save yourself a lot of money that would have gone toward medical expenses (a sedentary lifestyle can lead to an array of expensive health problems). However, you don't need to go to the gym just to stay fit. It's nice to have access to a gym, but gym memberships tend to be pretty expensive and people often don't go enough to make their investment worth it. In my case, I'm paying for a membership to a gym that I go to once a week for a specialized activity, but it's quite far away = expensive to drive to = hard to get out there more often. Still, I try to find other ways to exercise more than just once a week. Now, I don't profess to be an workout guru. I'm just here to dispense some money-saving tips that are incidentally laced with exercise advice.

If the cost of gym memberships is an issue, there may be some ways to make it less of an issue. If you're a college or graduate student, there's a good chance that your school has a gym or offers discounted memberships to local gyms; sometimes your family member(s)/significant other/roommate(s) can enroll along with you and enjoy the same low price. However, I gather that most people are not students, or if you're like me, your school has no gym and doesn't offer any discounts. Fear not, there are other avenues to pursue. The first option is a no-cost one: friends who live in places with gyms. Try to make them your workout buddies. If that doesn't work, there are the discounted options, sometimes springing from unlikely places. Does your health insurance offer discounts as part of their preventative health program? It won't be much, but it's still better than paying full price. My old insurance did offer a discount, but I never looked into it because I didn't need it; there was a gym at my former place of employment and employees got good discounts. If your workplace doesn't offer such a perk, you might want to find out whether local community centers have exercising facilities that you can access for low or no cost. Another place to look to, if you live close enough to it, is your college alma mater--sometimes colleges offer discounted rates to alumni, especially those who fall into the "young alumni" category (e.g., those who have graduated within the past 5 years). You may have to pay for an annual alumni association membership in order to enjoy this benefit, but when all is said and done, it's probably still cheaper than 24 Hour Fitness.

If none of these options work for you, one thing you may want to consider is getting together a group of like-minded friends for some collective bargaining. As I mentioned before, my school doesn't have a gym, nor does it offer any discounts for local gyms. However, a number of students tried to gather a group of 20 people necessary for a discount at Gold's Gym. If I'm not already paying for a gym membership and supplementing it with an at-home exercise program (see below), I would have gone for it.

So what happens if it's impossible to get a cheaper gym membership? Well, you can do without it. You really don't need machines to break a sweat or bulk up. The most obvious exercises that don't require much equipment is running or walking. To make things more challenging, do the stairs or hills. A few words of caution: first, if you think there are health issues, consult your doctor before embarking on your exercise program; second, pick a safe place to do this. I hate running, but even if I didn't, my neighborhood isn't all that safe after dark, so running/walking is out.

There are alternative exercises that you can perform right in the comfort of your own home. The best thing about exercising at home is that I can do it anytime; if you're weary about scheduling a specific time for working out, you can do it between commercial breaks or do different routines throughout the day when you have a moment to spare. My home gym is composed of a yoga mat, an exercise ball, and a few hand weights; my roommate has some resistance bands and a few other small gadgets. An added bonus to an exercise ball is the entertainment value. When I have guests over, that's the first thing they play with (boingy-boing). As with other products, do comparison shopping for exercise equipment; don't just run to the first Big 5 you come across (though I've found pretty good deals there). I've seen yoga kits at places like Ross and Marshall's. Outlet stores of major sporting goods stores can really shave costs on big-ticket items. Heck, even Big Lots has bench presses and such.

Typically, I do some pilates-based exercises on the mat and with the ball (just sitting on it and balancing is really good for your core muscles), along with some forward and backward lunges. Those exercises work the legs and core muscles. The 5- and 10-pound hand weights are great for building up back, chest, and arm muscles. I had some training on those exercises, but for the uninitiated, it's good to do some research on the Internet, ask friends to show you exercises, or get exercises videos/DVD's. For weight training and more specialized exercises like yoga, it's much better to have a live person show you how to do things, since form does matter if you want to make the most of your workout and avoid injury. Hence, depending on your budget, it might be worth it to take a class or have a personal training session; once you learn the ropes, you can do the rest on your own. Your local YMCA or community center might offer free or low-cost courses. You can also try enrolling in a community college course for exercise or dance; in California, it's $26 a unit, which isn't bad. Still, many exercises are easy enough that you can learn on your own, especially if you have some understanding of how things work. Public libraries often have instructional media that you can check out for free, but if you're concerned about the cheesy 80's look and decidedly low production quality, you can always get newer ones from Overstock, which has pretty good prices and a sizable selection. Sometimes the equipment comes with posters and basic instructions for a few exercises to help you get started.

Like I said, I'm no exercise guru, so there's really nothing left for me to say. Next time I'll talk about health insurance. Originally I thought Part III would be really short, but I realized that billing is an issue to watch out for, so I'll have more to talk about (but it'll still be short).

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