If you're like most Americans who want to stay fit and active, there's a good chance that if you haven't already (or recently) joined a gym, the thought has likely crossed your mind—especially as the new year approaches. Perhaps financial, logistical, or other concerns have precluded you from joining a gym. Then again, maybe the mere thought of joining a gym—and actually having to go to it!—makes you sweat (if not break out in hives), because it's just not your thing.
Whatever your excuse for not stepping foot in a gym, the good news is that you never really have to look much farther than your own home, backyard, local park, or even your office to get—and stay—fit, and reap the many benefits regular physical activity provides.
Here are some tips to help you stay fit (and have fun!) without ever hitting a gym:
• Use your tools! "The No. 1 tool you can use for any workout is your own body," says Nathaniel Oliver, owner and founder of Type A Training, an in-home personal training company in New York City. Oliver recommends simple exercises like squats, push-ups, and dips that use your body weight as resistance. The standard routine is two to three sets of 15 reps for each exercise, but you can intensify your workout by doing them with less rest between sets, he says. For those who live (or work) in a building with stairs, he recommends walking or running up four flights of stairs about five times for a good cardio workout. Take the elevator back, or walk down the stairs slowly and gently, to save your knees. To ramp up the workout, Oliver recommends doing a few jumping jacks or jogging in place before heading up the stairs.
• Make some small investments. Oliver recommends several fitness tools to keep at home, including light dumbbells, therapeutic balls, gliding discs, a jump rope, and some how-to yoga DVDs. He and Heather Frey, president of SmashFit.com, a website that matches trainers with clients, agree that a set of bands is key. "Handled rubber bands act as hand weights and give your muscles the resistance work they need to keep muscles tight and strong," Frey says. As an added bonus, "They're also portable, lightweight, inexpensive, and very effective."
• Set your alarm. If your job requires you to sit at a desk all day, set an alarm reminding you to move for at least five to 10 minutes each hour. You can take a short walk outside, climb some stairs, or get up and stretch. These timed breaks will not only give you energy and help you feel more productive throughout the day, but they can protect you against some of the possible effects of prolonged sitting, which include obesity, diabetes, heart disease—and even death.
• Walk and talk. Instead of meeting friends for the usual lunch, dinner, or coffee date, why not share an early-morning, midday, or after-work walk? Even a few moderate 10-minute walks throughout the workday can burn calories, lift your mood, energize you, and give you quality time with friends. Just be sure to keep an extra pair of sneakers on hand, if not a workout outfit or two, so you have no excuses.
• Meet face-to-face. The next time you yell out directions or questions to your spouse, kids, or roommate who is on a different floor—or in a different room—in your home (you know you do it—who doesn't?), don't! Instead, get up and talk face-to-face. You can also do this in lieu of sending another email, text, or instant message to a colleague or friend who lives or works a few blocks away. Making face time not only helps you be more active, but it can help you avoid miscommunications so you get the results you want.
• Notice opportunities for movement. "It's important to keep your head focused on purposeful movement," Frey says. "Use all that you do in your day as exercise. Park farther away from your destination, take the stairs instead of elevators and escalators ... walk or ride your bike whenever possible, and put some body power behind your cleaning." For extra fun, Frey recommends going outside and playing with your kids. "You can take a walk, play tag, throw a frisbee, jump on your bikes, toss a ball ... anything to get all of you moving and get the best of all benefits—extra time and better health with your children."
• Follow your own path. For radio personality Jennifer Hutt, a mother of two, "what matters most is that I move my body some way every day—even if the intensity can't always be at a super-high level." Hutt finds that being active helps her manage her weight and stay sane—and I'm sure that's something we can all appreciate! Although she does go to a gym to spin or do some other type of workout, some days she simply wears her comfortable shoes and makes it a point to walk as many places as possible. "I make this my own personal game—can I travel all over New York City and not take one train, taxi, or bus? On days I do this, I can end up walking three miles or more just going from place to place, and it gives me the best feeling at the end of the day," Hutt says.
How do you stay active and fit outside of a gym?
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Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Zied Health Communications, LLC, based in New York City. She's an award-winning registered dietitian and author of three books including Nutrition At Your Fingertips. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, Zied inspires others to make more healthful food choices and find enjoyable ways to "move it or lose it" through writing, public speaking, and media appearances. You can connect with her on twitter (@elisazied) and through her new Stressipes forum on her website: www.elisazied.com.