Staying Fit in an Unfit Economy

About 2 weeks ago, I was training “Laura,” a freelance writer I had been training religiously twice a week since August. During this particular day, the lone television set in the studio was not tuned into one of its normal “brain candy” stations like E!

or  VH1, but was tuned into  C-Span. A few people meandering on treadmills looked on with sullen faces as the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen, filled with downward-pointed red arrows, displayed plummeting stock prices. Reading my mind, Laura turned to me and said in a reassuring tone, “Just so you know, my training is going to be the absolute last thing to go.”  Last week she informed me that, because of financial reasons, she needed to put her training on hiatus. Of course I was sad to lose the business, my mind jumping around a pond of lily pad-covered numbers trying to figure out how I was going to make up for the lost income. But the thought of her not continuing the walk down the path to optimal fitness because she could not afford to hire me, got me to thinking.  A sinking economy, for a number of reasons, is actually a great place to start to increase your fitness levels. I know what you are all thinking: this girl MUST be insane. But hear me out. My guess is that in about 500 words, most of you will not only see my point but will actually agree with me. These simple suggestions on saving a few dollars could be your ticket to brewing healthy lemonade out of a lemon-filled economic situation and managing your stress levels during crunch time.

Construct A Mini Home Gym: Let’s start with the obvious (and most painful one for me): the rising costs of gym memberships and personal training. For most of us, no matter how thick our wallets, hiring a personal trainer is definitely considered an indulgence….an unnecessary luxury. What do you do when push comes to shove and the days that once began bright and early at 6 a.m. with a peppy greeting from a sweat-suit clad fitness guru have to go bye-bye (along with the $150 a month in gym membership fees)? Dedicate a corner of your basement, den or any other free space in your house for exercise. Hire a trainer on a consultant basis and give them a spending limit. Have them purchase equipment for you and design a number of workouts that you can do in the comfort of your own home based upon your goals. Invite a friend or two over for an hour of exercise (a little friendly competition and motivation never hurts) and save a bundle in the process. 

Tune in to FitTV: Remember the days of Jane Fonda, leg warmers and embarrassing leotards? I, personally have very fond memories of my mother clad in the aforementioned items jumping around our living room in the early 1980’s with her best friend in an effort to stay in shape. To this day, my 62-year old mother (who is often mistaken for someone who is in her late 40’s) still gets up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to do TWO aerobics videos before she slinks into her size 2 pants and heads off to work. She has NEVER belonged to a gym. True story. Fitness has evolved quite a bit since those days, so much so that there is an entire TV channel devoted to those wishing to stay in shape. Fit TV offers half-hour workouts with everything from Yoga and Pilates to Cardio Dance and Kickboxing. Check out their full range of TV shows at and bring back the in-home fitness groove! 

Start Walking: I work in Manhattan 6 days a week. By choosing a Metro-North train that gets me in to Grand Central about 35 minutes before I NEED to be at work, I have enough time to avoid the subway and walk the 20 blocks to my job from the station. I do the same thing coming home (taking a slightly later train). I realize that, yes, I get up and get home a few minutes earlier or later than I normally would, but in the process I have added approximately 1.25 miles of walking exercise into my day and saved myself $4 in subway fares which equates to $20/week, $80 a month and so on….you get the idea. 

Turn Your Kitchen Into a Restaurant: When I moved to New York City from Penn State, I had dreams of actually using the galley kitchen in my Upper East Side apartment. That is, until the take out menus started piling in under the door. I untied my apron strings and gave in to the convenience of city living, ordering everything from Chinese food to pizza. Looking back, I most likely spent $150/week on eating meals out, from buying $12 salads for lunch to picking up Chinese food or sushi for dinner. For the past several months, I have been eating breakfast at home before I leave, taking my lunch to work, and eating dinner in. I even brew my own tea and drink it on the train out of my reusable mug instead of stopping at Starbucks on my way to work. The $150 a week I used to spend on eating out has turned into approximately $100/month in grocery bills. The best part? Not only am I saving money, but I KNOW EXACTLY what goes into my food. No MSG when I make a stir fry. No butter when I grill a steak. I know exactly what I am putting into my body and have lost about 10 pounds with my newfound love of cooking. 

Take Advantage of the Great Outdoors: Instead of planning lavish summer vacations, taking a plane to a tucked-away paradise and sipping MaiTais on a sandy beach, pack up your car with some camping gear and head up north for some outdoor 

adventures. A weekend of camping is a great way to bond with your family, or spend some time alone reflecting; it is quite inexpensive and can be packed full of calorie-blasting activities such as hiking, swimming and boating. 

So there it is. None of us wants to have to taper off our spending, tighten our belts or give up the luxuries and conveniences that get us through our days. And who can predict just how long this is going to last. But sacrificing any level of fitness is something that nobody should do to cut corners. If you have to close one door by giving up your trainer or gym membership, get creative and open another. 

Jen Soltys is an Irvington resident and personal trainer. email:

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