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$Monday: Free Fitness

Gym memberships and exercise classes can be motivating, but they are not necessary to live a healthy lifestyle. I've never had a gym membership or a fitness tracking device in my life, and I am a slimmer-than-average person with somewhat visible abs and a resting heart rate under 65. I do not diet, track, or count calories in or out. I don't even keep a scale at home--I check my weight infrequently, at medical appointments, because I know that weight itself is not a very useful measure of health. While I build movement into every day, I actually avoid doing anything too athletic or sweaty or high-impact because hard workouts exacerbate my anemia, making me less healthy and productive and attractive the harder I work. Having an ultra-ripped gym body or being able to perform human tricks of strength are not goals for me; I'd rather be healthy and feel good, and the difference between how I look now and how I look at peak athletic performance is marginal.

Instead of striving for hard discipline, I check in with myself about how I feel and what my body needs. In addition to intuitive eating, I practice intuitive exercise.


As I wrote just before the dawn of the decade, "my personal vision statement for the 2020s is to turn everything I can into a playground, not a prison." I want to find joy in all the stuff I have to do to survive, including exercise. So here are some examples of how I make fitness fun and easy without paying a cent for tracking tech or gym fees:

I play outside.
Whenever possible, I do fun stuff with my family outdoors. In the photo above, my daughter and I are "working out" (for just a few easy minutes at a time) at what we call the "adult playground" at our local park, an outdoor gym that anyone can use for free. We also climb on the regular kids' play structures, chase each other in games of tag, and ride our bikes on the sidewalks and trails, as you can see a woman doing in the background.

In the winter, we take every just-right-weather opportunity to go sledding.

In all seasons, we take every possible opportunity to walk somewhere (school, a grocery store, the mall, the library, a friend or family member's house, etc.) instead of driving.

In the summer, we go swimming once in a while.

We do as many of our chores manually as possible. We do not own a leaf blower or snow blower. We shovel our own snow by hand, do our yardwork almost completely without powered tools, and I often mow our lawns with an old-fashioned manual mower.

On those days when I really, really don't want to play outside but I need to move my body...

I work the living room.
I can find a professionally designed workout for every mood on YouTube for free. I just move aside the coffee table, make sure the rug is nice and clean, and plug my laptop into my TV with an HDMI cable. (If you have a smart TV, you can probably access workout videos without all those bits and pieces.) On most days, I choose a workout between 10 and 30 minutes in length--easy peasy.

If I'm feeling bouncy or I want to get pumped up, I look for videos by sunshiny, peppy, adorable instructors who obviously love what they do. My favorites include Leilah Isaac for belly dance, Kat Musni for strength training, and POPSUGAR Fitness for variety.

When I'm FED UP WITH EVERYTHING and need to thrash out some anger or pent-up stress, I pull out my dusty old set of free weights (water-filled plastic jugs or bottles also work if you don't have equipment), crank up my "Loud Noises" playlist (a mix of heavy metal, prog rock, punk, and screamy silliness that includes Rammstein, Lindemann, System of a Down, Green Day, The Mars Volta, The Distillers, and Lord of the Yum-Yum) and pound out reps until I've purged the demons.

When I'm feeling down (tired, achy, sad, crampy, or fragile), I search for a soothing or healing or whatever-I-need yoga tutorial. Ahhhhhh, that's better.


I'm not here to knock the benefits of joining a gym or taking an in-person class if that's a joy for you. (I have very much enjoyed taking exercise classes on occasion.) But I am here to demonstrate that buying fitness isn't necessary to stay fit throughout life. Fitness/health tracking devices and apps can stress people out more than they're worth, and they also run the risk of making you insufferably boring. Nobody wants to hear about your calories or your half-pound of weight loss or how many steps you took today. Sorry.

How do you feel, though? That's what really matters. We can go for a walk in nature and talk about that anytime. Or not. When you feel good all the way down to your bones and you have energy and strength and vitality, you don't need to tell anyone--we can see it shining out from your proud posture and swingy walk and bright eyes and glowing skin. I know I feel spectacular after shaking out some 3/4 shimmies to Shakira while I get ready in the morning. It's fun to find your groove outside of the gym, whenever, wherever.

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