Get fit for less: how to save money when getting healthy


Get fit for less


I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern recently. When the weather warms up, I feel the need to get in shape. It’s not because I’m trying to get my body “beach ready” (whatever that is anyway!), but simply because the sunshine gives me an energy boost and the longer days means I don’t have the excuse of refusing to run by myself in the dark. Admittedly, I have yet to hit the ground running, but I have good intentions. I’ll start tomorrow. Yes, definitely tomorrow. Ha!

Early in January, like just about every person, I was tempted to join a gym as my New Year’s resolution. I marched down to the local sports centre, registered for my seven-day free trial… and didn’t make it there once. Thank goodness I hadn’t signed up for an annual gym membership. The £50 a month would have added insult to injury.

But, if you want to get in shape and live a bit healthier, there are lots of ways to cut costs.  Here are seven low-cost alternatives to a gym membership – at least money can’t be your excuse.

Note to self: come up with a new one.



Research by the University of Essex shows that exercising outdoors boosts people’s physical and mental health more than going to indoor gyms, even in winter.

If you fancy a jog outside but like a slightly competitive edge, then check out Park Run – a free, weekly, 5km timed run in more than 530 locations around the UK. Open to runners of all ability levels, simply register on the website and print off a barcode through which your time will be recorded.

What’s more, as weekly results are posted on the website by lunchtime on Saturday (runners can also have their score texted to their mobile phones) – which means you can “virtually” race against friends at another location.

Alternatively, improve your health and the environment at the same time with this outdoor alternative to the gym. Work up a sweat digging, planting, lopping and path clearing at one of 100 free Green Gyms around the country, run by The Conservation Volunteers. Experienced leaders guide volunteers through a range of practical projects, giving you the opportunity to tackle physical jobs in the outdoors. And the workout is pretty good – according to TCV, almost a third more calories can be burnt in some Green Gym sessions than in an average aerobics class.



Been on a health kick since the sun came out? Swap just five of the so-called superfoods for cheaper alternatives and you could save you a fortune, according to consumer group Which?.

Shoppers who are after more polyunsaturated fatty acids EPA and DHA often buy fresh salmon (£25/kg at the fish counter in Tesco); but buying fresh sardines (£3/kg) instead will reduce your spend by 90%.

Getting more vitamins C and K in your diet doesn’t have to cost as much as you would think, as switching from blueberries (£2 for 150g at Tesco ) to kiwi fruits (six for 74p) can save you £1.26 a week or £66 annually.

Those of you who buy dried goji berries (£3.20 for 200g) to stock up on vitamins A, B2 and C and iron, can save a bundle by replacing them with spinach (£2 for 500g) – saving you £1.20 a week or £63 over 12 months.



Couch to 5K (C25K) is a running app that has been developed to help absolute beginners get into running. The plan involves three runs a week, with a day of rest in between each, with a different plan for each of the nine weeks. For graduates of Couch to 5K or regular runners, try 5K+, a running podcasts series designed to work on your technique, speed and stamina.

If you are an avid runner, worth a look is MapMyRun, a free app that enables you to calculate your route, mileage, minutes per mile and calories burned during each session. Upgrade at a cost for additional features.

If exercising on wheels is more your thing, check out Strava Cycling. This app measures your speed, distance and elevation as you cycle, it also allows you to compete with other cyclists who have ridden the same “segment” of road or trail.



For those of you who like exercising in a group setting, there are a number of free classes available, so long as you know where to look.

If getting fit was one of your New Year’s resolutions, try one of the many free exercise classes across the UK.

Women’s fitness shop Sweaty Betty, for instance, offers free zumba, Pilates, running ballet and other fitness classes (for men and women) at all 46 branches across the country.



Membership at a chain gym such as LA Fitness could cost you over £550 a year, but luckily there are cheaper alternatives.

If you are not bothered about Jacuzzis and juice bars, there’s been an explosion in no-frills gyms, with prices from as little as £15.99 a month.

My husband made the switch a few years ago, and said he would never pay for a normal sports centre again. He goes to The Gym, which will not tie you into any contract, meaning that you can cancel at any time. Open 24-hours a day, members can also make the most of a wide variety of free classes including Tabata training, kettlebells and bootcamp. It also makes going for a workout a bit easier when juggling work and kids – you can turn up at anytime and simply get on with it.

Don’t forget to look into your local leisure centre as one advantage of using local authority facilities is that you’re often able to pay for each individual visit – a bonus for anyone concerned about signing up for a monthly gym membership they may not use.



If you are planning on signing up for a gym membership, make sure that you do it at the end of the month, when the sales team is trying to close last-minute deals to reach their quota. This is the best time to ask to have initiation fees waived, free personal training sessions or even have a few spa treatments thrown in.

Sure, swimming laps every now and then sounds lovely, but if you don’t plan to go for a dip often (say, more than once a month), then there is no sense paying a monthly fee. Maintaining a pool tends to drive up monthly club costs and memberships fees and can quickly leave you out of pocket.

If its fitness classes that you are most tempted by, consider getting just a class card so that you’re only paying for the instructor and space when you need suggests.



You may already receive emails from sites like or that offer discounts on spa days and meals out, but often these websites will offer aerobic sessions, bootcamp workouts, yoga and pilates classes at a fraction of the cost – sometimes even at your own local gym.

Keep an eye on your inbox to make the most of these bargains.


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