"A gym should be viewed as more of an elitist issue with regard to fitness because it's not necessary," says Dr Robergs, a professor of exercise physiology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. If you're worried about missing out on the human interaction the gym provides, he suggests taking advantage of free resources in your community like walking trails, bike trails and public pools. Another low-impact (and weather-friendly) option is to join a mall walking group. Stop by your mall's information booth to find out if such a group is available for you.
At some point you're going to want to (and should) add muscle resistance to your cardiovascular routine. But you don't need expensive machines, or any equipment for that matter, says Dr Wyatt, an associate professor of exercise physiology and athletic training at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. "I'm a big proponent of using body weight to do my resistance training," he says. "Let's say I want to improve the tone of my legs. I can go to the gym and do weight presses or I can do body weight squats. If [regular squats] are too light I can do a one leg squat, which is extremely difficult but it's going to add stress to that tissue without adding weight or using any equipment at all." With a little creativity, he says, you can devise several exercises at home that are very similar to the movement patterns you would do using equipment at the gym.
Not sure what body weight exercises are right for you? If you don't want to shell out for a certified personal trainer, the next best thing is go online to learn how to position your body correctly, Dr Wyatt says. One place to start is the website of American College of Sports Medicine's Exercise is Medicine initiative, which includes a video library of exercises: http://www.exerciseismedicine.org/KeystoExercise.htm.
You can also check out the following books, which are targeted to both beginner and regular exercisers:
When you don't have an expensive gym membership motivating you to work out, it's crucial to find other ways to light a fire under you. Dr Wyatt points out that studies show compliancy is best when workouts are scheduled at the same time every day. "What I do is I go into my day planner and I mark out time to work out," he says. "Then if someone tries to schedule something for that time, I just tell them I'm already booked."
Dr Robergs offers another way to keep your fitness routine in check: Find a friend with whom you can workout regularly and swap exercise ideas. "That seems to work because even when you don't feel motivated you know your buddy is coming over and you're going to have to [work out] anyway," he says.
Dr Robergs emphasizes first checking in with your doctor before starting any fitness routine. Once you get the green light from your doc, you should assess your current fitness level and build from there. If you're a beginner, he suggests starting out by swimming or walking. "You have to decide what shape your body is in. You can get a good quality workout doing fast walking," he says.
Most importantly, remember that the more you push yourself beyond what you are comfortable with, the more dramatic your results will be, Dr Robergs says. "In the late 90s there was this movement to recommend accumulated activity. That was a huge error. It wasn't based on scientific evidence." So, rather than doing 15 minutes here and there, aim for at least 30 minutes of rigorous exercise. "If you want to talk about how to prevent disease, you need to do sustained, continuous activity," the doctor adds. "That is a research fact."
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