Fitness freebies for belt-tightening times

Mon Sep 19, 2011 5:15pm EDT
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) - If the economic downturn has forced you to scrap that pricey gym membership or those private yoga lessons, don't despair.

Times may be hard, but experts say finding cost-free ways to get, or stay, fit has never been easier.

"Just going to the gym is not as important as an active lifestyle," said Shirley Archer, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. "We have to shift that mindset. There are tons of free options."

Archer, a Florida-based fitness instructor, said studies show that people who go to the gym twice a week but are otherwise inactive, are less fit than people who don't go to the gym but are routinely active during the day.

"You can start with something as simple as walking," she said. "Public parks offer organized walking groups. Or start a walking group at your office. You want to be moving at least 150 minutes a week, but that can be broken up into 10 minute bouts."

Volunteerism, Archer said, is a way to follow your passion to cost-free activity.

"If you're into the environment, you can volunteer to clean up parks and beaches. You can join Habitat for Humanity to help build a house. All require physical activity and you're contributing something positive."

Free professionally-led fitness classes have proliferated since the downturn, according to Archer, as private studios seek to attract ever-scarcer dollars and public venues strive to maintain healthy communities.   Continued...

<p>Trainer Anne Marie Smith (L) leads guests in a Pilates workout before dawn at the Biggest Loser Resort in Ivins, Utah September 6, 2010. REUTERS/Rick Wilking</p>