If you need inspiration to become more physically active, a push to get going or just want to have more fun, here are six of the best, easy-to-afford and effective pieces of exercise gear. Using just one of these regularly will improve your fitness without straining your budget:
1. Resistance bands: Stretchy and fun, they do the work of weights but pack easily in a purse or pocket. Versatile for several body areas. ($3+)
2. Jump rope: Remember when you could jump for hours with your friends? You don't need hours now—just 5 or 10 minutes of jumping (indoors, if you prefer) will boost your activity level and burn calories. ($3+)
4. Hand weights: Keep a set by the computer or TV and use while watching something entertaining. ($5+)
5. Exercise ball: Sized for your height, most of these come with their own pump for easy inflation (and reinflation). Great for strengthening various muscle groups. Use as a chair and you'll get a bit of a workout just from balancing on it. ($15+)
6. Pedometer: Just put it on and in a day or two you'll be more aware of how much (or little) you're moving every day. Aim to increase your average daily steps by 5 percent every week until you reach 10,000 steps a day, a goal that the American Heart Association and other experts suggest. Then add more to increase benefits. ($10+)
Often, you can find fitness items such as exercise DVDs, roller skates, workout clothing and more at yard or garage sales for just a dollar or two.
If you're interested in acquiring big home-gym equipment, yard sales and online community boards are great places to find barely used items. Recently, one site had offerings that included treadmills for $35 to $75, a weight bench for $1 and an elliptical machine for $180. Just remember that you'll probably have to arrange for transporting the big and heavy pieces—as well as find a space for them in your home.
American Heart Association. "Frequently Asked Questions About Physical Activity." http://www.americanheart.org. Accessed July 7, 2009.