Everything costs money, and that includes staying fit and healthy. But there are ways to trim the fat--so to speak--and still, well, trim the fat.
1. Set up an Inexpensive Home Gym. Instead of a gym membership ($30 to $70 per month), invest in an exercise mat, a resistance band and an exercise/stability ball. With those items, you can work out in the comfort of your own home, in a park or anywhere. Learn a few key exercises such as a plank, side plank, squats and push-ups. Also, using the band, learn the chest press, lateral raises, bicep curls, standing back row, triceps extension and overhead shoulder press. There are many sites online that will help you create a 30-minute home workout for free. Just enter "exercise resistance band workout" into the search engine and see what comes up. You can also try www.acefitness.org/getfit/RubrBndWkout.pdf and www.thera-bandacademy.com/exercises and www.bodylastics.com.
2. Use Your TV. Start your own collection of fitness DVDs by purchasing them online at collagevideo.com or amazon.com. Check around for sales. Or rent them from Netflix for as little as $4.99 per month. Or see if your local library has any you can borrow. Also, as a side note, you can save money by borrowing diet and fitness books from the library instead of purchasing them.
3. Use the Free Stair Climber. Find the tallest public building around and climb to the top at least once per day.
4. Walk More. Save gas and improve your life. Walking is simple, it's inexpensive and almost anyone can do it--you don't even need a pair of sneakers (but it helps). Try to incorporate your walk into something you have to do anyway. For instance, you need to go shopping--why not walk to the store? Also, while you're walking, you can catch up with friends and family on your cell phone, stop in to visit with friends and neighbors, or use the time to think of ways to improve your relationships. The idea is to multitask while you're staying fit. Or use the walk as a time to reflect. Research shows that the more scenic your walks are, the more you'll want to take them. Walking burns 246 calories per hour.
5. Bicycle. Go onto craigslist.org and buy a used bike, or buy a new low-cost beach cruiser with a basket. Start biking to get around town--and to get some exercise while you do your errands. Before you buy a bike, take it for a test ride. Make sure it feels right. Also, don't be shy. Play with the gears and brakes and travel on terrain that's similar to where you're most likely to use the bike. You can even get a $20 monthly credit on your taxes, which can be used for maintaining, repairing or buying bicycles depending on your employer. Biking at a leisurely pace of 10 to 12 mph, you can burn 423 calories in just 60 minutes.
6. Jump Rope. It is very inexpensive and it burns calories while it improves your endurance, cardiovascular health, coordination, timing and agility. You can buy a jumprope at your local sporting goods store or go online to ropesport.com, amazon.com or esportsonline.com. Slow jumping burns 9.4 calories per minute or 281 calories per half-hour. Moderate jumping burns 11.7 calories per minute or 352 calories per half hour.
7. Buy Fruits and Vegetables in Season. Spring: apricots, broccoli, green beans, mangoes, pineapples and spinach. Summer: bell peppers, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, eggplant, grapes, melons, peaches, sweet corn, tomatoes, summer squash, watermelon and zucchini. Fall: apples, butternut squash, cranberries, pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, pears, pomegranates, sweet potatoes and turnips. Winter: apples, grapefruit, kiwis, leeks, oranges, mushrooms, tangerines and winter squash. When not in season, or to avoid having fresh produce go bad, try frozen fruits and vegetables--you'll probably be surprised by how good they are.
8. Buy Organic Only When Necessary. According to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, the following fruits and vegetables generally contain the most harmful pesticides, so buy them organic when you can: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes (imported), carrots and pears.
9. Cook in Batches, and Eat At Home. Eating out can be expensive and unhealthy (lots of calories and big portions). Cooking for yourself saves money, and you also get to choose the ingredients so you can make sure all your food is healthful. Also, taking the time to cook your own food helps you to appreciate it more--and preparing, cooking and cleaning up burns calories. One of the most effective ways to ensure that you always have a healthy meal on hand at home is to cook several meals at once. Maybe create a cooking day. For instance, Sunday you could spend the day cooking for the entire week. Make a vat of vegetable soup, or prepare and cook two whole chickens (without the skin, of course). Divide everything into serving-size portions and freeze it.
10. Get Group Support. One of the reasons Weight Watchers is so successful is that it provides participants with support. You can create your own group support by putting up fliers in your neighborhood or at local markets. Hold weekly meetings with others who want to lose weight. Or, if you're not the organizing type, try the nonprofit TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) at www.tops.org. Dues are $26 annually in the United States, plus chapter fees that average less than $5 per month to cover operating costs.
Charles Stuart Platkin is an Active Expert , nutrition and public health advocate, author of the best seller Breaking the Pattern (Plume, 2005), Breaking the FAT Pattern (Plume, 2006) and Lighten Up (Penguin USA/Razorbill, 2006) and founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions. Sign up for The Diet Detective newsletter free at www.dietdetective.com.