Gym-free exercises

Try these cheap and fun gym-free activities to improve your health and fitness.

Getting health benefits from physical activity is easier than you think, and doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg.

Doing at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity is enough to keep you feeling fit and healthy.

This level of activity can reduce your risk of developing major chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and even early death. 

Health clubs may not appeal to everyone, but some people find the structured environment of a gym motivating. Gyms can be cost effective for people who go regularly.

Organised classes and sports clubs also give you support, goals and a chance to make new friends.

Alternatively, there are many cheap activities that you can do on your own that don't involve equipment or technical expertise. Just give them a try.

"Activity doesn't have to be expensive," says Robin Gargrave of YMCAfit, one of the UK's leading trainers of fitness professionals. Robin says that the gym is often the wrong place for inactive people to start.

Gym membership usually means signing a 12-month contract. Robin says most people drop out after 10 to 12 weeks.

"The fitness programmes aren't always well adapted to individuals. The goal setting can be unrealistic, and the instructors may not give enough support," he says. "Unless you're into fitness, gyms aren't the friendliest places. My advice is to get active first, then consider gym membership later on."

He says the key to getting active is to find something you enjoy that you can easily build into your lifestyle. "Don't make drastic changes," says Robin. "Just try to take up an activity that you can build into your lifestyle, or build on something that's already part of your routine."

Getting started guides

Robin Gargrave gives the following tips for getting active the cheap and easy way:

Walking

Most people walk at some point in the day. Increasing the amount you walk is easier than you think. You can make it a social affair by joining a local walking group.

"There should be some vigour for the walk to be beneficial," says Robin. "But you don't have to be completely out of breath." Walking is one of the best forms of exercise because it's cheap and accessible to everyone.

Walking stimulates the cardiovascular system (heart, lungs and circulation). It also boosts the endurance of the lower muscles, including the legs and hips. The average person can burn up to 400 calories by walking 10,000 steps in a single day. Get yourself a pedometer and give it a go. 

For tips on walking to boost your health, making walks fun and staying motivated, check out our getting started guide to walking.

Home exercises

Burn calories, lose weight and feel great with our 10-minute home workout routines:

If you're looking for something less energetic, these exercises for older people are ideal if you want to improve your health, lift your mood and remain independent. Don't worry if you've not done much for a while, these exercises are easy, gentle to follow and can be done indoors.

Running and jogging

You need to be fairly fit to jog or run. Running makes more demands on your body than walking. "The benefits are greater but so are the risks in terms of injury," says Robin.

When you can walk briskly for 20 minutes continuously, you can try to "walk-jog". Walk for a minute and then jog for a minute, alternating the speeds throughout your session. Run at a pace at which you can still hold a conversation, but which feels harder than walking.

Vary your running route to make it more interesting. Don't exhaust yourself at the beginning or you'll lose motivation. Running stimulates the cardiovascular system and increases lower body muscle endurance.

If you're thinking of taking up running for the first time or you've been inactive for a while, read our getting started guide to running. Thousands of people have learned to run using the NHS Couch to 5K podcast. The plan will get you running 5km in nine weeks.

Cycling

Most car trips are under a mile long and could easily be cycled. But cycling involves more cost and skill than walking or running. "Be sure that you like cycling before you spend money on equipment," says Robin.

It's a low-impact activity, but you can still injure yourself if you have the wrong size bike, or if the saddle and handlebars are the wrong height. Cycling is an aerobic exercise and works your lower body and cardiovascular system.

Start slowly and increase your cycling sessions gradually. As with jogging or walking, you can make it a social activity by riding with friends, family or a cycling group. For tips for complete beginners, see our getting started guide to cycling.

Swimming

Swimming is the third most popular type of exercise after walking and running. There's probably a pool near your home or workplace. Most pools offer lessons if you're a beginner or you want to improve.

Swimming exercises the whole body and is a great way to tone up and get trim. Doing a few lengths involves most of the muscle groups. If you increase the pace, you'll get an aerobic workout too. Swimming can also help you lose weight if you swim at a steady and continuous pace throughout the session.

Some people may feel self-conscious about wearing a swimsuit. Going to the pool with friends or family is a good way to build your confidence.

You could also join a swimming club or sign up for pool workout sessions, such as aqua aerobics. For tips for complete beginners, read our getting started guide to swimming.

Dancing

Dance is increasingly popular among all age groups. "Studios have never been fuller, with classes ranging from ballroom dancing to salsa," says Robin. "It's fun and sociable, and there's a creative element that appeals to many people."

Dancing is a skilled activity, but most studios offer classes for all levels of ability. "It's important to start at the right level or you'll feel left behind and you won't continue," says Robin.

Dancing is an aerobic activity that improves your balance and your co-ordination. It's suitable for people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Find out more about dancing for fitness.

Badminton

"Of all the racquet sports, badminton is the most accessible," Robin says. The shuttlecock travels at a relatively low speed, so you don't need a high degree of skill and fitness to begin with. "In terms of hand co-ordination, badminton is easier than tennis and squash."

Badminton is an aerobic activitywhich works on your lower and upper body. It will develop your balance, co-ordination, stamina, power and reflexes. Racquet games can be quite strenuous, so warm up before playing. For more information, read Boom time for badminton.

Improving your health outdoors with the Green Gym

Green Gym is an initiative of the BTCV, a UK environmental volunteering charity, that can improve your fitness while helping the environment. Find out what benefits it offers.

Media last reviewed: 06/09/2013

Next review due: 06/09/2015

Page last reviewed: 01/03/2014

Next review due: 01/03/2016

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 73 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

5K+ running podcasts for C25K graduates

Take your running to the next level with new podcasts for Couch to 5K graduates

Strength and Flex

Download our Strength and flexibility podcast series and get a free personal trainer

Media last reviewed: 11/03/2013

Next review due: 11/03/2015

Health and fitness

Boost your health and fitness with fun and practical ideas to get active and improve your general health

Get fit with the Olympics

Get into the Olympic spirit and kickstart your active lifestyle

Activity holidays

How to get fit and have fun on holiday, including ideas for activity breaks and tips on how to motivate kids