Working out at home sounds like a fantastic idea in theory. After all, it involves exercising in the comfort and privacy of your own home without having to swelter outdoors in the heat or spend any time commuting to and from a gym, right? Using such logic, many people spend good money on pieces of home fitness equipment — and unfortunately, most of them don't stick with their workout programs. Consider these tips.
1Count the costs. A piece of home exercise equipment could set you back anywhere from $400 to $3,500. True, gym memberships also cost money that simply isn't well-spent if you don't visit the gym often enough — but at least gym memberships don't eat up huge chunks of floor space in your home. Before you invest in a piece of equipment, think hard about whether or not you'll really use it.
2Consider other alternatives. The truth is that there are plenty of ways for you to exercise free of charge. You can always get a good workout by walking on a sandy beach or in a shady park before or after the heat of the day has passed. Many area malls also offer mall-walking programs in the early morning. And stop and think: By simply walking 30 minutes a day five times a week, you'll help keep aches and pains at bay, reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure, and lower your risk of heart attack, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, colon cancer and dementia.
3Put some air in those old bike tires. Another low-cost way to get into shape — and to feel like a kid again — is to ride a bicycle. If you've got a neglected bicycle sitting in your garage, this could be an option for you. Just make sure you have a decent helmet, and consider taking your bike to a bike shop for a quick tuneup if you haven't used it for years.
4Or ride your bike at home. If you don't feel comfortable riding on the street in traffic and no good bike trails exist where you live, another option is a stationary bicycle trainer. Just mount your conventional bicycle onto this low-cost piece of gear, and voila! Instant stationary bike!
5Remember workout videos. They take up almost no room, and they get you moving. You can find free video workouts on the Web sites of Fitness (www.fitnessmagazine.com), Shape (www.shape.com/workouts/videos/) and Women Workout Routines (www.women-workout-routines.com). To find DVDs you would enjoy using, check out Collage Video (www.collagevideo.com) and read exercise-video reviews at www.videofitness.com.
6Give low-tech options a try before buying high-end gear. For $20 to $40 or so, you could buy some free weights and an exercise ball that allows you to do stomach crunches. Just use these items for a little bit in the evenings while you're watching TV, and you're all set.
7Choose fitness equipment you'll enjoy. If you decide to go the more high-tech route, opt for something you like. If cycling is your thing, consider a stationary bike. If you enjoy hiking, consider a stair stepper. Motorized treadmills are the most likely to be used regularly by their owners; elliptical exercisers also are popular.
8Save significant cash by buying used. Thousands of consumers want to get rid of their bulky and barely used fitness equipment, so why not take advantage of that? You can find deals through classified ads, secondhand stores, yard sales and these Web sites: tampa. craigslist.org, www.freecycle.org, www. sharingisgiving.org, www.freecycleamerica.org, www.reuseitnetwork.org and www.freesharing.org. Before buying used, though, call the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission toll-free at 1-800-638-2772 or visit its Web site at www.cpsc.gov to see if the equipment has been recalled.
9Be wary of TV commercial hype. Some manufacturers claim that you'll get results if you use their equipment three or four minutes a day, three times a week. Such claims can't be trusted. Also be wary of companies that advertise "three easy payments of . . ." or "just $39.95 a month." Add up the total cost of the equipment, including shipping and handling, sales tax, delivery and setup fees.
10Shop for new equipment the right way. Home machines can be quite different from their counterparts at the gym. Go to the store dressed for a workout and test the gear before you buy. Ask about service and return policies. Know what repairs, if any, can be done for you if you run into problems. And find out if you would have to return a heavy piece of equipment through the mail or haul the machine to an authorized service center.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources: Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org), American Council on Exercise (www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/fitbits_list.aspx)