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Quick Tips: Getting in Shape Without Spending Money

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When you stay active, you feel better and have more energy for work and leisure time. You're more able to do the things you enjoy, like playing with children, gardening, dancing, or biking.

Staying fit helps you sleep better, handle stress better, and keep your mind sharp. It's good for your heart, lungs, bones, and joints. And it lowers your risk for heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers.

If you have heart problems or other health issues, or if you have not been active for a long time, check with your doctor before you start a new activity.

It's easy to spend a lot of money on sports and activities that help keep you in shape, but it's just as easy to get into shape and stay there without spending any money at all.

Remember to work on all three types of fitness: flexibility, muscle strength, and aerobic fitness.

Flexibility

  • Warm up your muscles for 5 to 10 minutes before you stretch them. Warm up by doing aerobic activity such as walking or jogging.
  • Stretch all your major groups of muscles. These include the muscles of your arms, your back, your hips, the front and back of your thighs, and your calves.
  • Stretch slowly and regularly to help yourself be more flexible. Combining stretching with other fitness activities is best.
  • Try to hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Do some stretches first thing in the morning.
  • Take a "stretch break" instead of a coffee break at work.
  • Try activities that include stretching, such as dance, martial arts (aikido or karate), tai chi, or yoga.

Muscle fitness

  • Do housework and yard work on a regular basis: Scrub the bathtub, wash walls, till the garden, or pull weeds.
  • Do basic muscle-conditioning exercises such as push-ups, leg lifts, and other familiar exercises.
  • Try muscle-strengthening exercises using weights. You can use cans of food instead of buying dumbbells.

Aerobic fitness

Experts say to do either of these things:

  • Moderate activity for at least 2½ hours a week. Moderate activity means things like brisk walking, brisk cycling, or shooting baskets. But any activities—including daily chores—that raise your heart rate and increase your breathing can be included.
  • Vigorous activity for at least 1¼ hours a week. Vigorous activity means things like jogging, cycling fast, or playing a basketball game.

These ordinary activities cost nothing and all count as aerobic activity:

  • Walking briskly to work or to do errands
  • Pushing a lawn mower
  • Vacuuming
  • Sweeping (perhaps to fast-paced music)
  • Raking leaves or shoveling snow
  • Dancing
  • Playing actively with your children
  • Walking the dog

If you need more structure for your exercise but don't want to spend money for a class, check out exercise DVDs from the library.

Try these suggestions at work:

  • Use your morning commute to get in some extra walking. Park several blocks away, or get off the bus a few stops earlier.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator, at least for a few floors.
  • Suggest holding meetings with colleagues during a walk inside or outside the building.
  • Go the extra distance when possible: Get your coffee on another floor (take the stairs) or use the restroom that's the farthest from your office.
  • Stand and do simple stretches while you make phone calls. A speakerphone may help.
  • If you need to speak to a colleague, walk to that person's office rather than using email or the phone.
  • Use your lunch hour for a workout: Take a brisk walk, jog, or bike ride. But don't skip lunch. Eat it at your desk while you check your mail or listen to phone messages.

Credits

Current as of: January 16, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine

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Here are a few additional resources as well: 

World Health Organization
Centers for Disease Control

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