Gym-free exercises


Cheap and fun gym-free activities to improve your health and fitness.


Getting health benefits from physical activity is easier than you think, and doesn’t have to cost and arm and a leg.

Doing at least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, is enough to keep feeling fit and healthy.

This level of activity is enough to reduce your risk of developing major chronic diseases, such ascoronary heart diseasestroke,type 2 diabetes and even early death.

Health clubs can put some people off, but others are motivated by the structured environment of a gym. Gyms can be cost effective for those who go regularly.

Organised classes and sports clubs also give you support, goals and a chance to make new friends.

Alternatively, there are many cheap activities that you can do on your own that don’t involve equipment or technical expertise. Just give them a try.

“Activity doesn’t have to be expensive,” says Robin Gargrave, of YMCAfit, one of the UK’s leading trainers of fitness professionals. Gargrave says that the gym is often the wrong place for inactive people to start.

Gym membership usually means signing a 12-month contract. Gargrave says most people drop out after 10 to 12 weeks.

“The fitness programmes aren’t always well-adapted to individuals. The goal setting can be unrealistic, and the instructors may not give enough support,” he says.

“Unless you’re into fitness, gyms aren’t the friendliest places. My advice is to get active first, then consider gym membership later on.”

He says the key to getting active is to find something you enjoy that you can easily build into your lifestyle.

“Don’t make drastic changes,” says Gargrave. “Just try to take up an activity that you can build into your lifestyle or build on something that’s already part of your routine.”

Robin Gargrave gives the following tips for getting active the cheap and easy way:

Most people walk at some point in the day. Increasing the amount you walk is easier than you think. You can make it a social affair by joining a local walking group.

There should be some vigour for the walk to be beneficial,” says Gargreave. “But you don’t have to be completely out of breath.” Walking is one of the best forms of exercise because it’s cheap and accessible to everyone.

Walking stimulates the cardiovascular system (heart, lungs and circulation). It boosts muscle endurance of the lower muscles, including legs and hips. The average person can burn up to 400 calories by walking 10,000 steps in a single day. Get yourself a pedometer and give it a go. It’s easier than you think.

For tips on walking to boost your health, making walks fun and staying motivated, check out our getting started guide to walking.

Running and jogging
You need to be fairly fit to jog or run. Running puts more demands on your body than walking. The benefits are greater but so are the risks in terms of injury, says Gargrave. When you can walk briskly for 20 minutes continuously, you can try to ‘walk-jog’. Walk for a minute and then jog for a minute, alternating the speeds throughout your session. Run at a pace at which you can still hold a conversation, but which feels harder than walking.

Vary your running route to make it more interesting. Don’t exhaust yourself at the beginning or you’ll lose motivation. Running stimulates the cardiovascular system and increases lower-body muscle endurance.

If you’re thinking of taking up running for the first time or you’ve been inactive for a while, read our getting started guide to running.

Most car trips are under a mile long and could easily be cycled. But cycling involves more cost and skill than walking or running. “Be sure that you like cycling before you spend money on equipment,” says Gargrave.

It’s a low-impact activity, but you can still injure yourself if you have the wrong size bike, or the saddle and handlebars are at the wrong height. Cycling is an aerobic exercise and works your lower body and cardiovascular system.

Start slowly, and increase your cycling sessions gradually. As with jogging or walking, you can make it a social activity by riding with friends, family or a cycling group. For tips for complete beginners, see our getting started guide to cycling.

Swimming is the third most popular type of exercise after walking and running. There’s probably a pool near your home or workplace. Most pools offer lessons if you’re a beginner or you want to improve. Since April 2009, many swimming pools across the country are offering free admission to people aged 60 and over, and under-16s.

Swimming exercises the whole body and is a great way to tone up and get trim. Doing a few lengths involves most of the muscle groups. If you increase the pace, you’ll get an aerobic workout too. Swimming can also help you lose weight if you swim at a steady and continuous pace throughout the session.

Some people may feel self-conscious about wearing a swimsuit click for more. Going to the pool with friends or family is a good way to build your confidence. You could join a swimming club or sign up for pool workout sessions, such as aqua aerobics. For tips for complete beginners, read our getting started guide to swimming.

Dance is increasingly popular among all age groups. “Studios have never been fuller, with classes ranging from ballroom dancing to salsa,” says Gargrave. “It’s fun and sociable, and there’s a creative element that appeals to many people.”

Dancing is a skilled activity, but most studios offer classes for all levels of ability. “It’s important to start at the right level or you’ll feel left behind and you won’t continue,” says Gargrave.

Dancing is an aerobic activity, which improves your balance and your co-ordination. It’s suitable for people of all ages, shapes and sizes.

Find out more on dancing for fitness and classes and watch Britain’s Got Talent winners Diversity talk you through some of their favourate dance routines.

Of all the racquet sports, badminton is the most accessible, Gargrave says. The shuttlecock travels at a relatively low speed, so you don’t need a high degree of skill and fitness to begin with. “In terms of hand co-ordination, badminton is easier than tennis and squash.”

Badminton is an aerobic activity, which works on your lower and upper body. It will develop your balance, co-ordination, stamina, power and reflexes. Racquet games can be quite strenuous, so warm up before playing. For more information read Boom time for badminton.

10 tips for a healthy diet

South Asian cooking varies from country to country. As with all cooking, it can be made healthier without sacrificing taste.

The term ‘south Asian’ refers here to anyone of Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Sri Lankan origin. Each of these communities has its own unique history and culture, but they all share some common health issues

Making a few changes to your ingredients or ways of cooking, such as reducing the amount of fat, salt and sugar you use, can make a big difference. This can help protect you against putting on weight and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Dr Justin Zaman, chair of the cardiovascular working group at the South Asian Health Foundation and cardiologist at University College London Hospitals, points out that how you prepare food can be as important as what you eat. “Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis, for example, tend to eat lots of fish, and some Hindus are vegetarian,” he says. “These are healthy options, but often the fish or vegetables are fried in ghee, which makes them higher in fat. As a general rule, try to avoid using too much ghee in cooking and replace this with healthier cooking oils.”

Use rapeseed oil or olive oil as alternatives to ghee in cooking.

Here are Dr Zaman’s top tips on eating a healthier diet:

Eat less sugary food

Cut down on sweets, cakes, syrupy desserts and sweet drinks. For desserts or snacks try yoghurt, fruit or nuts, and try drinking fruit juice, water or unsweetened tea.

Eat less processed food

This includes foods such as sausages, cakes, biscuits, burgers and fast food. These can be high in fat and salt.

Eat less salt

Too much salt can cause raised blood pressure, which has no symptoms but can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Raised blood pressure isn’t more common among people from south Asian communities, but it is a serious health issue for everyone why not try here. Avoid adding salt to food when you’re cooking and try not to add it to food at the table. If you need to season food, use pepper and other spices.

Salt is often added to ready-made and processed foods, including bread, cereals and soup. Reading food labels (usually on the back of the packaging) can help you control how much salt you eat. Look at the figure for salt per 100g.

  • A high salt content is more than 1.5g salt (or 0.6g sodium) per 100g.
  • A low salt content is 0.3g salt (or 0.1g sodium) or less per 100g.

Eat less saturated fat

Saturated fat is found in butter, ghee, full-fat milk, fatty and processed meat such as kebabs or sausages, coconut and palm oil, biscuits, pastries and cakes. Too much saturated fat can:

  • raise the level of cholesterol in the body, which is a risk factor for heart disease
  • lead to weight gain and increase the risk of diabetes and other health problems

Reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by trimming the fat off meat, taking the skin off chicken, using skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurt, and avoiding foods that you know are high in fat. You can also read food labels to see whether a food is high or low in saturated fat.

High levels are more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g. Low levels are less than 1.5g of saturated fat per 100g.

Eat small amounts of unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat. Unsaturated fat is found in oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil, rapeseed oil, vegetable oils, and spreads made from these oils.

Eat less deep-fried food

Foods that have been deep-fried in oil or ghee, such as samosas, are high in saturated fat. Try steaming, baking, boiling or grilling food instead.

Eat more fruit and vegetables

Aim for five portions a day. It doesn’t matter whether they are fresh, frozen, tinned (in water or their natural juice), juiced or dried. Read more about how to get your 5 A DAY.

Eat more starchy food

Starchy foods such as rice, bread, pasta, potatoes and yams should make up the main portion of a meal. Wholegrain (brown) versions are healthier than white versions. Use wholegrain or wholemeal flour when you’re cooking.

Eat more beans and pulses

Beans and pulses, including lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans, are low in fat and high in fibre. Avoid frying pulses. To learn about eating pulses as part of a balanced vegetarian diet, readVegetarian health.

Eat more oily fish

Oily fish include mackerel, pilchards, salmon and sardines.

Make healthy swaps

When you’re cooking or snacking, go for a healthy option. Swap ice cream for yoghurt, swap sweets for fruit, or have nuts instead of chocolate.

‘Diabetes and me’


Surjeet Soin, 65, found out he had diabetes 14 years ago. He started taking medication and took up walking to keep fit. He went to Mount Everest base camp in 2005.

Surjeet, an accountant from Luton, was 50 when he found out he had type 2 diabetes. He had typical symptoms. “I was overweight. I weighed over 12 stone (76kg) and I’m 5ft 6in (1.67m) tall. I was getting up in the night to pass water, I’d lost some weight and I had blurred vision,” he says.

Surjeet’s wife, Devinder, was concerned and urged him to see his GP, who diagnosed diabetes with a blood test. “I suspected it was diabetes, so wasn’t shocked when the doctor told me,” says Surjeet. “I just thought, ‘I need to get on with my life now’.”

His younger brother, who lives in India, has diabetes and Surjeet thinks his grandfather did too. “Neither of my parents had it, but it’s in the family.”

Learning about diabetes
The GP prescribed medication (Glucozide) to control Surjeet’s diabetes, but he has never had to take insulin. “I’m living with a progressive condition and one day I might have to start taking insulin,” says Surjeet. “I’ll deal with that when it happens lisinopril 20 mg tablet.” The medication has improved his vision and he no longer needs to wear glasses for driving.

Over the next couple of years, Surjeet read books about diabetes and began to make small changes to his lifestyle, such as cutting out sweets and getting more exercise. “I definitely noticed an improvement in my health,” says Surjeet, who now weighs a healthy 10 stone (63.5kg). “Once I changed my lifestyle I felt more active. Generally, I felt pretty good. I stopped feeling lethargic. There was a lot of go in me!”

Cutting down on gulab jamun
Surjeet says it has taken willpower to make the changes he felt were important. “I used to eat a lot of Indian sweets. Devinder makes lovely gulab jamun, but I don’t have them now,” he says. “And I used to overeat, whereas now I eat less. I’ll have just one chapatti with the evening meal, and afterwards I’ll have plain yoghurt. I cut down on all my desserts. I’ll have custard or ice cream just once a month or so.”

Surjeet also gave up alcohol, and hasn’t had a drink for nearly 14 years. Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t have alcohol, but alcohol can cause problems. The advice about drinking differs depending on a person’s condition and medication. Surjeet decided to give up altogether. “I used to go to the pub with friends, or to weekend parties at people’s houses. At first giving up was difficult and friends would tease me about it, but I don’t miss alcohol at all now. I drink water when I’m socialising.”

Being more active
Knowing he should keep active to control his weight, Surjeet briefly considered joining a gym, but settled on a cheaper and more interesting option. “I knew if I did six miles on a treadmill I’d still be in the same spot, but if I walked for six miles outside I’d see things and be in the fresh air,” he says. “And a gym would cost me money. So I started walking.”

He enjoys trekking in the countryside and now walks two or three times a week with friends or Devinder, including a walk of 12 miles or so at the weekends. “I’ve done the Three Peaks in the Yorkshire Dales three times, and trekked in Ecuador,” says Surjeet. When he was 62 he trekked to Mount Everest base camp. “That was tough. It took 12 days, but it was good. I was the oldest man on the expedition.”

Helping others
Surjeet also keeps active at home by gardening, and he goes for regular health checks every six months, with retinopathy screening (an eye check) every year. He is keen to educate others about living with diabetes and is chairperson of his local Diabetes UK group. “We meet once a month and have speakers on all aspects of diabetes. People with diabetes come along just to talk and share information,” explains Surjeet.

“There’s plenty to learn, not just about managing diabetes, but also about your eyes, your feet and your weight. It’s important to help people learn more, because that’s how they work out how to manage their condition. The more they know the better they can look after themselves.”

Find out more about living with diabetes.

South Asian children ‘less active’ than peers

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South Asian children are less physically active than other children according to findings of research being carried out for the British Heart Foundation.

Asian children are more likely to spend their evenings studying, playing computer games or watching TV than playing outdoors or doing sports.

Current recommended guidelines from the Department of Health suggest that young children should be vigorously active for at least an hour a day. Ideally they should be active for a number of hours each day.

A study monitoring the activity levels of 208 children in Coventry has found that British Asian children are as active as other children while at school and during weekends. However, in the evenings, they are less likely to be playing or running around.

Of the children taking part in the study, 96 were white European, 65 were British South Asian and 47 children were from other ethnic backgrounds.

The children were aged between seven and nine. They each kept diaries and wore a physical activity and heart rate monitor for eight days at a time to collect data on their levels of activity.

“Start Quote

Certainly some parents encourage their children to be very academic and might not encourage them to be physically active.”

Dr Krystyna MatykaConsultant paediatrician

Emma Air, a research associate at Warwick University, said the findings so far indicate that children from South Asian backgrounds tend to be less active.

“It tends to be after school where the activity patterns are different.

“We’re finding no difference in their physical activity patterns at school, lunch or break. They seem to do similar amounts of activity at weekends. But it’s weekdays after school when they are less active,” she said.

‘Role models’

Dr Krystyna Matyka, a consultant paediatrician and associate clinical professor at Warwick Medical School, is leading the research.

She explained that the study used the the children’s diaries to assess what type of activities they participated in after school.

“There are cultural reasons for having other things to do in the evenings, like perhaps going to mosque.

“People have commented on a lack of effective role models for South Asian children doing lots of physical activity. Certainly some parents encourage their children to be very academic and might not encourage them to be physically active.”

Aameela, is a Year 6 student at Frederick Bird Primary School who took part in the research. She said: “After school I eat my tea, do my homework and go to the mosque.”

Kashif and Jabedul are both aged eight and are also pupils at Frederick Bird Primary School.

“I like to play on my computer,” said Kashif. “But my mum and dad like me to tidy up, pray, then go outside.”

“I do my homework, and play of course on my PS3. Sometimes I go out with my mates and play football,” said Jabedul.

“My parents really care about me getting good GCSEs,” he added.

Future risks

The research has now moved into the second phase where children are monitored during exercise. In particular the researchers are looking at heart rate variability. Primary results suggest that South Asian children react differently to exercise.

Dr Matyka said: “We are measuring how the heart responds in different situations. It should go faster at some points and slower at others.

“We have found that the response rates in South Asian children is lower than children from white European backgrounds, which suggests there is an increased metabolic risk. Whether that does mean in 20 or 30 years time they will develop a heart attack is very difficult to say.”

It is well documented that South Asian adults are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease than the general population because of genetic risk factors and lifestyle.

However, Ellen Mason, of the British Heart Foundation, is concerned that people think heart disease only affects older generations of Asians.

“We know that South Asian children are more likely to get heart disease than any other ethnic group in the UK. That’s why we are desperate to reduce this inequality because we don’t want to see another generation die young from heart disease.”

“It might be to do with behaviour that carries on within families. It does very much affect people who are second or third generation Asian.”

The charity plans to use the findings to encourage Asian parents to be better role models when their children are young.

Some Asian families are already adopting a more active lifestyle.

Faatima, aged eight, said: “My mum goes to the gym in the mornings. She used to play badminton as a kid, and she makes us play badminton in the park.”

The study is expected to be completed in early 2012 , after more research to determine how the health and fitness levels of South Asian children can be improved.

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