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 2 hours and 30 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.”
Robin Gargrave gives the following tips for getting active the cheap and easy way:
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 boosts muscle endurance of the lower muscles, including 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.
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.
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 at 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 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 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.
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, which 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.
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 activity, which 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.