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Home workout or join a gym?

Which gives you the most for your fitness dollar: Joining a gym or buying equipment and working out at home?

The answer: Whichever one keeps you moving.

"The motivations for different people are different," says Dr. I-Min Lee, M.D., Sc.D., an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health. "While the gym might work for some individuals, it might not for others."

This is one financial decision where you definitely have to take your own pulse first. Some people will stick with a program better if they work out alongside other people. Others prefer to exercise solo.

One success tip: No matter which way you go, start slowly and build. "An individual is more likely to stick with a moderate intensity program than vigorous physical activity," says Lee. "Start slowly and increase slowly."

7 questions to ask yourself
Here are a few questions to help you select a choice that will motivate you to enjoy the fitness routine, stick with it and get more for your money.
1. What is it you like to do?
2. What do you have access to now?
3. Are the facilities convenient?
4. Do you like a communal atmosphere?
5. What times do you plan to workout?
6. What's your goal?
7. Can you try before you buy?

What is it you like to do? "Be honest with yourself," says Lee. Set up a fitness program doing things you don't enjoy and you probably won't stick with it.

If you enjoy working out on a range of machines or want to take a class, you might get more out of a gym or health club.

But "something like walking is associated with significant health benefits," says Lee. "It doesn't require sophisticated equipment. You don't have to join a gym."

Zeroing in on what you enjoy can also save money. If you hate the idea of a spinning class, but love the idea of walking 18 holes, then you might investigate joining a country club or visiting a public golf course instead of joining a gym.

Likewise, if you just want to get in a few games of tennis, you might not need a facility that offers a full slate of exercise classes and a pool. 

Shop around. "There are all sorts of health clubs out there to meet the needs of the population," says Joe Moore, president of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, a health club trade group.

Don't assume there is one set price. "There are often starter memberships that people can get involved in that would be sold for a bargain price," Moore says. Clubs often have deals where they will waive introductory fees, too.

What do you have access to now? If you love to swim and have access to a great neighborhood pool, you probably have what you need to get started.

If you love to run, but the weather's bad or there aren't any safe places to jog in your area, that's a good argument for a club with a track or treadmill.

Next: "One excellent goal is to lower your resting heart rate. ... "
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