Getting Fit For Free

Posted on: 14 January 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Keep your heart healthy, trim off the extra pounds and best of all keep your credit card intact with our guide to getting fit for free.

If you are one of the many who've resolved to get fitter this year, then this is the one resolution you should try to keep.

The Benefits

  • Strengthen Your Heart & Mind – it improves the flow of oxygen to the brain which will aid focus, alertness, relaxation and clear thought
  • Protect Against Illness – it boosts our immune system by increasing concentration of white blood cells which help to combat colds, flu and other airborne viruses.
  • Improve Your Sex Life – it aids blood flow and stimulates the endocrine glands increasing the sex hormone, testosterone.
  • Improve Your Figure - regular exercise not only helps you shed a few excess layers of 'cosiness', but you'll find your energy levels increase, you'll sleep more effectively and improve your stamina.

Only 40% of men and 28% of women take the recommended amount of exercise and according to the British Medical Journal, regular exercise reduces the risk of conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes by 20% - 30%.

Five-star gym memberships, weekly seaweed wraps and regular detox camps? If your diet consists more of baked beans than baked trout, then read on. We promise to show you how to get fit without the funds, tone without the tenners and slim without the spondees.

Keep your heart healthy, trim off the extra pounds and best of all keep your credit card intact.

The Need To Exercise

When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins. These feel-good chemicals – legal and free – not only make us feel energised, but increase confidence, happiness and the ability to cope with stress.

Ever heard of running off a hangover? These little guys leave Berocca, Bloody Marys and marmite toast for dead when it comes to sorting you out. If they came in a bottle we'd buy them, so why not employ your body to produce some for free? Get out there and get moving.

Precautions Before Starting

  • Consult your doctor if you have any medical problems such as heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes, blackouts, arthritis or back problems.
  • Start gently and build up gradually over a few months.
  • You should be able to hold a conversation during exercise. Stop if you have difficulty catching your breath, develop chest pains, or feel weak, dizzy or faint.
  • Don't exercise if you are ill or feel very tired.
  • Wait for two hours after eating before exercising, but don't exercise on an empty stomach.
  • Drink lots of water before you start, while you're exercising and after you've finished.
  • Always warm up before you start exercising and cool down when you have finished by stretching.

Free Facilities

Remember when all you needed was a tennis ball, a piece of concrete, some chalk and a few mates to have an hour of fun and competitiveness? Well exercise can still come just as cheap.

You pay your council taxes, so why not find out where it goes? Local authorities all provide some form of free health and fitness facilities and, while charges vary between councils, many centres have 'open-days' when you can use facilities for free or at the most a pittance. Phone your local authority or have a look at their website.

There are also a number of free basketball, five-a-side and tennis courts around. If you're not into ball sports, then make your way to your nearest park. Run around, skip, or even fling a frisbee – this flimsy piece of plastic is much better value than a pricey session with a Swiss Ball.

Staying At Home

With the exception of blizzards and raging gales, nobody can really blame the British weather for lack of exercise. But even if you do stay indoors, there's still plenty to do, even without telly.

There are dozens of health and fitness magazines on the market and even more books written about getting fit. Buy or borrow one, clear a space and flick to the exercise pages. From 'how to beat the booze bulge' to 'exercising in pregnancy', you'll find a fitness regime right there on paper, with diagrams to ensure you don't twist yourself into knots.

Choose exercises which don't require any equipment – a chair can be used for balance, a ball for resistance or a step for stepping. If small weights are required, open your kitchen cupboard and pull down a can of baked beans or something heavier for each hand.

Again, try the multitude of fitness sites available for free online. Particularly good is The Fit Map's online personal trainer, where you can click on a body part and watch a video of a number of exercises to tone, trim or bulk it.

Increase The Basics

Now this is pretty basic stuff really, but it's amazing how a few easy changes to your day will help you on your way to fitness. Try walking to work or getting off your bus or train one stop earlier.

When you are walking, step up the pace a little. Increase that all-important heart rate and make the drab business of getting around town a productive aerobic activity.

Even doing housework for 40 minutes can count as your thrice-weekly exercise recommended by so many experts. Scrubbing floors, vacuuming or vigorously cleaning windows can burn as many calories as a trip to the gym, and you'll be left with a gleaming house instead of festering pile of sweaty gym clothes.

The effects of modern lifestyles on our fitness were highlighted by a recent survey conducted by Prima journalist, Ruth Tierney, which compared the lifestyles of women today and in the 1950's. Tierney found that ladies today eat an average of 2,178 calories a day and can expect their lifestyle to burn off 556.

In contrast, the average figure in 1952 was 1,818 calories consumed in a day while 1,512 were burned off. That's three times as many calories burned just by walking to the shops, scrubbing floors and making beds.

Get Up & Go

Fitness and funds can seem like inseparable bedfellows. Not only do most gym memberships start at around £50 per month, but the more fanatical can easily spend another £150 just on the latest lycra gear, tasty trainers and designer yoga mats.

But with such a wealth of resources and information available virtually for free, and a few minor lifestyle changes just begging to be made, who really has an excuse to linger on with lethargy? Take some advice from a famous sports brand's slogan – just do it!

Walk Your Way To Fitness

Walk to work if you can or get off the bus a few stops early and save on the fare. Parking out of town and walking the rest of the way will save pounds in parking, reduce the stress of rush hour traffic and help the environment too.

Run For Fun

Going out for your first run can be a little daunting, so try alternating running and walking between lamp posts and gradually increase the running sections. Entering a fun run is a great way to motivate yourself and really is fun, especially if you do it in a group.

Get Some Wheels

Cycling is a fun way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, balance and coordination. Whatever your age, get out there and give it a go.

Web Links

Exercise, Fitness & Leisure
Try the 'Information Centre' for healthy recipes, fitness training tips and exercises and alternative treatments to aid your fitness regime.

Lots of exercises – all with pictures. Click on the interactive tool 'Bodyworks' to learn about how your body works and to try various targeted exercises.

The Fit Map
UK health, fitness and exercise portal with articles about healthy living, interactive tools and fitness tools such as an interactive anatomy chart and video exercise demonstrations.

Health & Fitness Magazine Online
Features and latest news about health and fitness. Try the mind and body section for links to online yoga tutorials.

Fitness Industry Association
Trade organisation for the UK fitness industry. Promotes best practice within the industry, and also provides features and recent studies relating to the health and fitness industry.

NHS Direct
Lots of health information as well as tips on healthy living, eating and getting active.

Sport England
Aims to get more people involved in sport, to provide more places to play sport and encourages higher standards of performance. Provides a sport gateway database of local sporting contacts and sports facilities in your area.

Men's Health Magazine
Great resource for health and fitness tips as well as exercises (with video clips). Try the online personal trainer for free.

Men's Fitness Magazine
Lots of health and fitness tips and features. Take the fitness test (there's a print-friendly version) and browse through the workout archive.

Prevention Magazine
US health and fitness magazine promoting healthy living. Lots of great tools (quizzes, BMI calculator, walking calculator), latest news and research findings and online exercise programmes to follow. 

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