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Some favorite ways to get fit, almost for free: running, jumping rope, dancing


I need to get in better shape, but joining a gym is too expensive for me. How can I burn calories (and build muscle) for free?

In this era of Pilates studios and personal trainers, staying fit can cost a small fortune. If you haven't set aside an exercise slush fund, the cost of a gym membership (or even a decent pair of running shoes) can be staggering.

But fear not. Here are five favorites that will keep you fit, and they're free.

* Running. Aside from the cost of the footwear, this old-fashioned favorite is, step for step, the best way to burn calories on a budget.

* Walking. A lighter (but equally cheap) full-body exercise.

* Push-ups, crunches and lunges. If you have a floor, you can do these exercises. Together they will sculpt you from head to toe.

* Dancing. Shaking your tail feather is a great way to trim and tone.

* Jumping rope. This is one of the best, and least expensive, heart-rate boosters.

Live near a high school or university? Take advantage of the track, stadium stairs, fields and courts. Also, visit the library for books on at-home exercises.

If you are able to set aside some cash for exercise, do it. After you've made a financial commitment to staying fit (the YMCA is a good first gym), you'll be more likely to stick with it.

OK, how many calories am I going to burn taking that brisk 30-minute walk every day? How does that translate in terms of extra food I can eat?

Without knowing your weight and walking speed, it's tough to estimate how many calories you'll burn. A 200-pound man could burn 250 calories (the equivalent of a lean 3-ounce hamburger) in 30 minutes, while a 130-pound woman might burn only 100 calories (equivalent to a slice of bread).

While cutting calories may be your main goal, try to focus on the other benefits of your walking routine. Catching up with a friend, listening to a favorite book on CD, reducing stress, exploring new neighborhoods and keeping your muscles and joints in shape are a few of the perks. All of the above will inspire daily walks, and the calorie count will take care of itself.

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