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Exercising on a budget

You do not need a pricey gym membership or fancy equipment to get regular exercise. With a little creativity, you can find many ways to exercise for little or no money.

If you have heart disease or diabetes, be sure you check with your health care provider before starting to exercise.

Take a Walk

Walking is one of the easiest and least expensive forms of exercise. All you need is a pair of comfortable shoes. Walking gives you a great workout that you can tailor to your own fitness level. Plus, you can find many ways to add walking to your day:

  • Walk the dog
  • Walk with your kids, family, or friends
  • Do a mall walk in bad weather
  • Walk to work, or get off the bus or subway early and walk part of the way
  • Take a walk at lunch or on your work break
  • Walk to errands and appointments
  • Join a walking club

Just make sure you are walking fast enough to benefit your health. If you can talk, but not sing your favorite lyrics, you are walking at a moderate pace. Start at this pace, and go faster as you get fitter. You can also buy a pedometer that will track your steps. Many will calculate calories burned and distance, too.

Create a Home Gym

You do not need expensive exercise gear and equipment to have a home gym. By making the most of what you already have, you can work out at home without breaking the bank.

  • Use cans or bottles as weights. Make your own weights by using canned goods or by filling used soda bottles with water or sand.
  • Make your own resistance bands. Old nylons or tights make great substitutes for resistance bands.
  • Use chairs and stools. Chairs can work as props for doing certain exercises, such as leg lifts. A low, sturdy stool can be used for step training.
  • Hit the stairs. Who needs a stair machine when you have the old-fashioned kind in your house? You can create your own stair workout by walking up and down your stairs. Play some music to keep you going, and increase your workout by a song each time.
  • Get fitness DVDs or video games. Look for used copies or borrow them from your local library.
  • Look for used equipment. If you have a little money to spend, you can find deals on used fitness equipment at yard sales and thrift shops.
  • Invest in cheaper fitness items. Buying a few small fitness tools can help you vary your workout. A fitness ball can help strengthen your abs and improve your balance. Use a jump rope for a great cardio workout.
  • Use technology. Need a little help planning your workouts or staying motivated? Use smartphone apps or computer programs to help you plan and track your workouts. Many are free, and some cost just a small amount of money.

Use Your Own Body Weight

Whether you work out indoors at home or outdoors, there are many exercises you can do that use your own body weight to help you tone muscle. These include:

  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Crunches
  • Jumping jacks
  • Leg or arm raises

To make sure you use proper form, go to the online exercise library at the American Council on Exercise. They also have sample workout routines you can try.

Look for Low-cost Fitness Options

Many sports and activities are free or cost little to begin with.

  • Free classes. Many cities and towns offer free fitness classes for the public. Check your local paper or look online to find out what's available in your area. Older adults may find inexpensive classes at a local senior center.
  • Use local courts. Most communities have public basketball and tennis courts.
  • Go swimming. Find a local pool or lake and go for a swim.
  • Try other low-cost options. Try ice skating, jogging, hiking, volleyball, or in-line skating. Even cycling is affordable if you dust off an old bike or buy a used one.

Alternative Names

Exercise - budget; Weight loss - Exercise; Obesity - exercise


American Council on Exercise website. Exercise database & library. Accessed October 13, 2023.

Arnett DK, Blumenthal RS, Albert MA, et al. 2019 ACC/AHA guideline on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2019;140(11):e563-e595. PMID: 30879339

Buchner DM, Kraus WE. Physical activity. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 13.

Piercy KL, Troiano RP, Ballard RM, et al.. The physical activity guidelines for Americans. JAMA. 2018:20;320(19):2020-2028. PMID: 30418471

Review Date 5/12/2022

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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