By Dana Dratch
RISMEDIA, August 29, 2007- (Bankrate.com)–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.”
Here are seven questions to ask yourself:
1.) 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.
“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.
2.) 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.
Like to hit the machines?
One thing to keep in mind: “A lot of gym machines are better than what you would get at home,” says Lee. If you want to set up a home gym, count on buying “more than the base model,” to get a good long-term value, she says.
3.) Are the facilities you’re considering convenient?
If you’re going to use a club regularly, it pays to make it convenient. Most people who use a club regularly live or work within three miles, says Moore.
A major reason why people join a club and quit? They aren’t using the facilities, according to surveys by the club association.
If you’re not using it regularly, you’re not getting your money’s worth.
4.) Do you like a communal atmosphere or do you want to go it alone?
“Some people prefer to exercise alone, others like to exercise in groups,” says Lee. If you’re the latter, you might do better by joining a health club or an informal group, like a walking club, she says.
5.) What times do you plan to use the facilities?
Clubs are typically the most crowded right before and after work and during lunch hours, says Moore.
Visit a club during the hours you plan to use it to see what it will be like during your workout. If you prefer to work out during off hours, you might be able to qualify for a reduced-price membership, says Moore. These can be 10% to 50% less, he says.
But if you want to work out at peak times and hate crowds, that’s a point for a home gym or other options.
6.) What’s your goal?
If you simply want to get more physically active, you can probably do that on your own, says Dr. Lee. But if you want to train for a specific event or use specific types of equipment, that might be a good reason to join a gym.
“We like people to develop goals that are health-related,” rather than goals that are strictly physical, says Moore. You tend to see the progress more rapidly and that can keep you motivated, he says.
One excellent goal is to lower your resting heart rate. Work out regularly, and within a month, “you’ll usually see the resting heart rate decrease five to 10 beats per minute,” he says.
7.) Can you try before you buy?
A lot of gyms will allow you to buy a trial membership or sign on by the month so that you can test out the facilities. Test it and see what works for you, says Lee.
Not only will you find out if you like the gym, but you’ll get to sample various activities and equipment.
“Try things out and you’ll see what you like and whether you can stick with it,” says Lee.
Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.