Splurging on your fitness can certainly be a worthy investment. But how can you tell the solid buys from the novelties destined to collect dust in your basement? Top fitness professionals identified six smart ways to spend your money.
1. Behavior changing programs. Programs designed to help you adopt a new exercise mindset—such as audio tapes, hypnotherapy or motivational classes—can be a great way to break those ingrained sedentary habits. "These types of programs can help with [any] behavioral issues that prevent you from engaging in a healthy lifestyle," says Marta Montenegro, a professor of exercise physiology at Florida International University in Miami. Many use techniques such as visualization, positive suggestion, repetition and reinforcement to change patterns of thinking—so you're more likely to hit the gym after work instead of the couch. Cost: About $150 for group classes or $30 for an audio recording. Private therapy sessions run $75 to $100 per hour.
2. Fitness retreat or boot camp. These last anywhere from a day to a week and typically involve regimented meal and exercise plans, as well as motivational speakers, fitness instructors and team-based activities. Boot camps often schedule high-intensity workouts—many gyms now offer boot-camp-style classes—while fitness retreats tend to be more vacation-like, with nature-filled activities such as trail running, river rafting and snowshoeing. "Studies show that group classes motivate people to stick to an exercise program more than training by themselves," Montenegro says. Cost: These getaways generally start at $200 per day.
3. Exercise coach. If you're new to exercise, getting "professional assistance is money well spent," says Wayne Westcott, who directs the exercise science program at Quincy College in Quincy, Mass. A personal trainer can assess your interests and abilities and create a personalized fitness program you'll enjoy rather than wasting your time on activities that don't suit you. A good trainer can also teach the proper form for, say, lifting weights or running. "Once you've mastered that you can train on your own," Westcott says. Cost: $40 to $75 per hour.
4. GPS sport watch. Exercise physiologist Tom Holland, a sports performance coach based in New Canaan, Conn., swears by the Garmin 410, a GPS-enabled sport watch. It tells you your pace, heart rate, calories burned and distance covered in your workouts. Plus, the watch saves the data for easy download on your computer, so you can track your progress. Competing against your best times can help motivate you to "work out more frequently and have more fun doing it," Holland says. Cost: About $325 for the Garmin 410; less sophisticated GPS watches start at around $120.
5. Treadmill work station. Anyone who sits at a desk for most of the work day should consider buying a desk equipped with a treadmill, contends Elizabeth Joy, a sports medicine physician at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center in Salt Lake City. "Research has shown that even 30 to 60 minutes of jogging a day won't undo eight hours of sitting," she says, adding that prolonged sitting has been associated with dying earlier. Joy walks about 1.2 miles per hour on a treadmill while she works. Yes, she can still write and tap on her computer key board. "It's not fast enough to elevate your heart rate or even make you sweat," she says, "but the average adult will burn about 100 calories per mile; burning 250 to 300 calories per day is associated with weight maintenance." You can either buy a workstation like TrekDesk that fits over your current treadmill or a treadmill that's been fitted with a desk. Cost: $400 for TrekDesk; $3000 to $4000 for treadmill/desk combinations.
6. Home gym."If you like to train by yourself and have discipline, having your own equipment at home can truly make the difference," says Montenegro. She suggests buying one high-quality item that will delivers a full-body workout like an elliptical cross-trainer plus investing in a set of weights. Cost: A sturdy elliptical machine or bicycle (real or stationary) goes for around $500; a set of various weights with dumbbells and barbell start at around $100.
Chelsea Bush writes for AskFitnessCoach, a blog that promotes fitness and weight loss for "real" people.