Save money, get fit with affordable sports

Exercise good judgment

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for

Exercise good judgment

Saving money is great, but even better is living a long, healthy life to enjoy it. So make physical fitness part of your fiscal regimen.

If you’re old enough to have a vinyl Madonna album, you realize youth is indeed wasted on the young. Regain your old form with some dedicated “me time.” With the recession, some gyms have cut membership fees, and shopping around can land you cheaper deals on a variety of sporting activities suitable for athletes of all ages.

Here are six ways to burn a few calories without burning a hole in your wallet. And those admiring glances you’ll be getting? They’re free.

Tennis, everyone?
Tennis, everyone?

If you’re looking for a whole-body workout, tennis will serve perfectly at a price to match any budget.

Because you can’t play alone, tennis offers a full set of socializing opportunities — and indoor courts mean you can play year-round. “People who play tennis have an obsessive love for the game,” says Ann Bent, managing partner at Palm Tennis Management Group in Palm Beach County, Fla. “It’s so good mentally because there’s camaraderie, there’s fun and it’s a great way to meet people.”

Tennis can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Some private clubs still require players to wear white. In that case, an appropriate courtly appearance can cost more than $100. A personal tennis pro can be expensive, starting at around $40 per hour. But there are ways to save money. Public parks don’t have much of a dress code and charge minimal court fees. If you shop around, you may find group lessons for $10 a head.

Use the savings for a good racket — at $200 or so — and a pair of shock-absorbing sneakers, which will probably run $70 or more.

A sport that won’t run you extra
A sport that won't run you extra

You’ve probably been running around half your life because you had to — to the store, to the office, after the kids.

Now, run because it’s good for you — and save money, too. “The nice thing about running is it’s the most affordable thing you can do,” says Jean Knaack, executive director of Road Runners Club of America in Arlington, Va. “You don’t have monthly fees, and you can run straight from your front door.”

Just don’t step up your training too quickly. You could get hurt or wake up sore. (Limping ages you.) Instead, start with brisk 30-minute walks, says Knaack. Eventually, weave 10-minute trots into your treks.

The investment is minimal, primarily just a good pair of running shoes. Consider going to a specialty shoe store — maintains a list — where you’ll pay $50 to $100. You can spend more if you want, but a 2008 study by Consumer Reports tested 205 pairs, priced from $28 to $120, and all but four earned a very good overall score.

It’s an either-oar proposition
It's an either oar proposition

Think rowing is just for Ivy Leaguers and Oxford grads? Think again. You needn’t be a blue blood to enjoy this heart-healthy sport and save money.

Virtually every major city has one or more rowing clubs, and popularity is rising among “masters” rowers, or those age 27 and up. Rowing provides upper- and lower-body workouts because you pull with your arms and kick with your legs. And provided you don’t row too gently down the stream, you’ll get an impressive calorie burn even though you’re sitting.

Most boathouses welcome the public, and they provide shells for members and indoor rowing machines for inclement weather. There’s no special equipment required: You row in your socks.

Most clubs charge around $200 for beginner lessons and a small initiation fee that’s roughly the same. Annual membership is well below most upscale gyms, says Elaine Roden, executive director of the Miami Beach Rowing Club.

Pool your resources
Pool your resources

When it comes to exercise, swimming is clearly a stroke of genius. It strengthens your legs without impacting your knees, burns calories without making you smell like your antiperspirant failed, all while working your heart and lungs.

OK, it requires you to wear a swimsuit in public. That’s a small price to pay. And speaking of small prices, you generally can find a good public pool for as little as $4 per visit, says Jeff Commings, an associate producer at Another way to save money is join a gym with a pool or take advantage of community service organizations such as the YMCA.

Age is no excuse. Provided you have a suit, dive in for as little as $20 for basics like goggles and a swim cap.

Bike ride to glory
Bike ride to glory

If commuting drives you to distraction, put your mettle to the pedal and bicycle one day a week, says David Howard, executive editor of Bicycling magazine.

Howard says the average American drives 29 miles daily. Replacing your car with a bike one day per week burns enough calories to lose 19 pounds per year while you save money.

The gas money you save can justify forking over $1,000 or so for a top-quality bike. “When you spend a little more money, the quality goes up drastically,” says Howard. “The bikes are lighter and the riding experience is much more pleasant.” You’ll also need a helmet and some padded shorts, each one running around $50.

A fair way to get fit?
A fair way to get fit?

Even with golf carts, caddies and some post-game suds with your buds, golfing requires physical stamina, says John Miller, division manager for the public golf courses of Miami-Dade County, Fla. It takes strength to drive a ball a couple of hundred yards, and even the standing and walking burns way more calories than sitting, fitness experts say.

“We consider it a total experience,” says Miller. “It’s a social activity that couples and friends can do together.”

It often becomes an obsession as much as a game, which leads to spending on accessories like golf shoes ($60 and up), gloves (around $20) and maybe clothes you won’t wear anyplace else. Then again, it’s more affordable than most addictions — and there are ways to trim expenses. Start with clubs: Plunk down $2,000 for a set if you wish, but there are starter sets costing around $200. Garage sales are another possibility. The cheapest way to play a round and save money is during off-peak hours on public courses, where fees run anywhere from $13 to $120 and sneakers are acceptable.

Additional resources
Additional resources