7 Fun Ways to Get Slim without the Gym

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Do you find yourself holding even tighter to your purse strings these days? I'm always looking for ways to cut my expenses, especially with gas and food prices on the rise. This can be challenging to do when you're trying to lose weight and adopt a healthy lifestyle though. After all, they say it costs more to be healthy: "Health food" is usually more expensive per calorie than junk food (although that isn't always the case); going to the doctor for regular checkups can add up, too. And exercise? Well, moving your body safely and effectively isn't always cheap: Workout shoes, clothes, classes and gym memberships can really add up.

As a fitness instructor, I don't have to pay for access to a gym. But if I did have to (knowing my cheap self), I probably wouldn’t. Beyond the three classes I teach per week, I rarely set foot in the gym. Partly because the gym feels like "work" to me, and partly because I need a change of scenery, most of my workouts take place outdoors or at home.

So whether you're trying to save a buck, spend more time at home (and less time in transit), or simply don't like the atmosphere of a gym, don't worry. There are plenty of ways you can get fit and healthy without ever signing a contract or forking over even a single month's worth of membership fees. Here are some of my favorites!

Workout DVDs
I heart workout DVDs! They offer endless variety and a cheap way to get tons of exercise ideas that suit your needs. You'd only need a couple good ones to get a great workout, and you can resell them, trade with a friend, borrow more from your local library, or "swap" them online for a brand new title for just the cost of postage (I like swap.com for this). Whether you want gentle yoga, a hardcore strength workout, dancing or even step aerobics, workout DVDs only get better and more diverse over time. Here are some of our favorites to get you started, but read these money-saving tips before you buy.

Get On Your Feet
Truly some of the best cardio workouts you can get, walking, hiking and running are ideal for exercisers of all ability levels. Start with a walk, progress to a walk/jog, then take up running. Over time you can add hills, speed, distance and time to your workouts to continue challenging yourself in new ways. Head outdoors, hit the mall, or find a lovely trail and you are set. All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes.

Pedal Power
Many people have bikes, yet few of us use them regularly. Tune up your bike this weekend and head out for a ride. Whether you go on the street, on a bike path, or even commute to work, it's a great workout that you can also use as a multitasker and money-saver if it becomes part of your daily routine.

Yard Workouts
This past weekend, I spent three straight hours hauling dirt and compost, weeding, raking, planting seedlings and mowing the lawn. Talk about a workout! There was no way I'd need to hit the gym after all of those full-body cardio and strengthening moves. Gardening and yard work can be major calorie burners, and they're functional, too. They use your body through various planes and directions of movement, helping you develop strength, balance and coordination for the types of activities you do every day. I boost the burn by using fewer labor saving devices when I work in the yard. I use a manual edger (no motor), a reel mower (no motor), bins for hauling dirt and compost (as opposed to a wheel barrow) and a watering can that I refill and carry throughout the yard.

Everyday Objects
You don't need a home gym or heavy weights to get a good strength-training routine in at home. Look around you: What could become exercise equipment? How about a towel? That playground ball your kids play with? Your filled water bottle can double as a dumbbell. That baby sling can act as a weighted vest while you walk, squat and lunge. Can you turn laundry into a workout by squatting as you transfer clothes in and out of the dryer? Those full bags of groceries can be curled, raised and extended to tone your biceps, shoulders and triceps (respectively). If you look around you, exercise opportunities abound—no fancy equipment required.

Pick Your Own / Farm Share
I'm a big fan of pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms. You go out and provide the labor (exercise) and get a good price on some fresh and healthy food as a result. I buy dozens of pounds of berries every year this way. I've also just joined a CSA (farm share) that requires me to work 40 hours over the growing season. Not only is the produce fresh, local and way cheaper than I could get at the store, but I'm getting great exercise and learning a lot in the process.

Of course, SparkPeople.com offers dozen of free workout videos and exercises you can do at home (with or without basic equipment) to help you get in shape. We also offer walking guides, running plans, yoga routines and more to help you slim down without paying high for a gym membership. You'll find all of that and more in our Fitness Resources section.

Do you think a gym membership is a must? What is your favorite (or most creative) way to get slim without setting foot in the gym?