I used to get a lot of exercise when I was in college, because, as a student, I had a free pass to the campus fitness center. Dude, I was buff.
Okay, stop laughing.
Truth is, I am and always will be more like the 90-pound weakling than the sand-kicking chick magnet (I come from a small-boned family, and I’ve come to recognize there’s not much I can do about it). But one thing’s for sure about those college days—I was in great shape. I walked about a mile everyday between classes. I climbed four flights of stairs twice a day for three years, due to the English department’s location on the fourth floor of its building. And I played racquetball twice a week, at two hours a pop.
Then I graduated, and as my diploma landed, my fitness regimen disappeared. Work, family and a host of other responsibilities knocked "exercise" to the bottom of my priority list. But it doesn’t take a wad of time to stay toned. It just takes some creativity, a willing body and a little discipline. Here’s how to keep the muscles toned and the calories burning:
[GET OUTSIDE] Now that the weather’s cooler, there’s no excuse to hang around indoors. Have you ever noticed how people will get in their cars to drive a mile or two to the gym—where they promptly get onto a treadmill and start walking or jogging? Why not just cut out the fancy equipment and expensive memberships and walk to the park? Or jog a few times around the block? Plenty of parks have jogging trails that help you keep track of how far you’ve gone. If you prefer to stay in the neighborhood, use your car’s odometer to determine a distance—say, three-quarters of a mile from where you live. Then jog or walk to that point, turn around, and head back home. Do it every other day, or alternate jogging and walking from day-to-day. The idea is to get your heart rate going and work off the calories. And on that note, remember this: Some outdoor activities like gardening can burn as many calories (90 calories after 15 minutes) as more conventional exercise activities (water aerobics: 70 after 15 minutes).
[DEFY CONVENIENCE] This involves changing the all-American mindset that glorifies the quick and easy. Convenience is for the weak.
Lesson One: Stay off the elevator. Instead of riding the elevator at work or in your apartment building, use the stairs. There’s a reason stair-climbing machines are popular—it’s because walking up the stairs is good exercise. Find a well-maintained flight of stairs and frequent it.
Lesson Two: Nearby parking is for sissies. By the time you’ve circled the Wal-Mart parking lot three times looking for the closest space, you could have parked way out on the perimeter and walked to the door already—while benefiting from some good activity. Next time you’re at the movie theater or the mall or the grocery store, forget waiting. Park as far away as you can and walk the distance. No one else will be out there, so at the least you’ll get fewer door dings.
[STAY AT HOME] Is kickboxing in a class of 20 at the gym any better for you than doing the same thing at home? Not really. You’ll have to be more disciplined, of course—it’s much easier to give up and rest when no one’s watching than it is when you’re surrounded by pretty girls or sweaty guys. But the activity? No difference. From Abs of Steel to Xtreme Strength Training, there’s an exercise video available. But here’s the trick: don’t buy one unless you’re sure you like the program and regimen. (How many dusty, unused Buns of Steel videos are currently sitting in American closets?) If you want to try one, rent it first from your favorite video store, or check it out from the library (many libraries have extensive video sections). Once you’ve decided on a program, look around. Refuse to buy the video brand-new. Check out garage sales, Ebay, the discount rack at Best Buy. Exercise videos are as faddish as anything else (Tae-Bo, anyone?), and once the fad wears out its welcome, you can usually find the tapes for cheap.
Note: Exercise videos exist for almost any kind of toning or workout you can think of. But not all are equal. Before you start, check out the following for reviews and recommendations: exercisevideosreviews.com, videofitness.com.
[FINAL TIP] One big advantage of gym memberships, besides the ubiquitous mirrors and tanning products, is the motivation factor. Personal trainers, convenient equipment and fellow enthusiasts do a lot to help you maintain focus and intensity. It’s harder on your own. A good idea if you’re staying at home is to keep a personal workout log. Track whatever you want—activity, mileage, heart rate, calories burned—as long as you record something from every workout. Success motivates. Keep at it, and there’s no reason you can’t stay in great shape without thinning your wallet.
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