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RISMEDIA, January 23, 2010—(MCT)—A few years ago, Barb Lito and her husband decided to bite the bullet and buy some home exercise equipment. “We both had gym memberships, but with demanding jobs and family commitments, we were not making the time to get to the gym,” said Lito. Their daughter, who was 10 years old at the time, was too old for the nursery but too young to turn loose at the gym.

Working out at home was getting more attractive. There, she or her husband could squeeze in a workout whenever they found a spare 30 minutes. “It was the convenience factor,” Lito said. So they canceled their gym memberships and headed to Sears where they bought an elliptical trainer and a treadmill.

Starting a home exercise program doesn’t have to cost a bundle, especially if you keep the following tips from local experts and enthusiasts in mind.

Running shoes
Taking a jog around the block is one of the quickest ways to get started with an exercise program. Consider your feet before pounding the pavement too much, though. “If your feet are hurting, it’s going to discourage you from running,” said Mike Robinson, owner of Running Etc., a shop specializing in shoes and other running gear. “If you can get your feet happy, that’s one less excuse to keep you from going out the door tomorrow.”

Joe Harney, president of the Peninsula Track Club, said shoes should be replaced regularly, too. He said a pair’s effective life is about 400 miles. “When you see white on the edge of the heel, it’s time to get a new pair. Otherwise, if you run enough, you’re going to come up with pain somewhere. I can almost guarantee it.” Harney suggests buying two pairs at a time—once you find a pair that works well for you. “Companies change styles too much, you may go back to buy another pair and find they no longer make them.”

Mats and bars
“A lot of times you can use your own body weight,” said Mark Palamarchuck, instructional program supervisor for Newport News Parks and Recreation. Pull-ups, chin-ups and sit-ups require nothing more than a bar or a mat. Bars are available from discount stores and often fit over door frames. A yoga-style exercise mat will cost $20 or less at a discount store.

Hand weights
“With free weights or a stability ball, there are a lot of things you can do without spending a lot of money,” said Andre Moore, senior director of wellness and membership at the Newport News YMCA. “With dumbbells, you have a choice of neoprene-covered or just iron,” he said. “It’s just personal preference and comfort.” The price shouldn’t be more than a couple of dollars per pound. “If someplace is asking you to pay $5 or more a pound, go somewhere else.” If you are unsure of the amount of weight to use, Moore suggests using this test: Do two or three sets of 12 to 15 lifts, such as a curl. “If you are straining on the last couple of reps, that’s probably a good weight for you.” Typically, people just starting out use hand weights between 3-5 pounds.

Exercise balls
Inflatable stability balls and old-fashioned weighted balls—also known as medicine balls—have rolled back into fashion among fitness experts. The weighted spheres can be used to add resistance to a wide variety of exercises.

“They’re tried-and-true and they work. I think people are realizing that,” Palamarchuck said. “They’re very versatile.” He suggests using them with crunches or squats. They’re also readily available. You’ll find them at sporting goods stores as well as big box discounters such as Wal-Mart. Moore suggests beginners start with a 4-pound medicine ball. “Start with something lower than what you can handle, then increase.” Exercise experts also recommend using the inflatable stability balls. Look for models with an anti-burst feature and be sure to buy the right size ball for your height.

Recorded exercise programs offer workout expertise in a convenient digital package. They’re not only for neophytes, either. Some workout DVDs, including the much-advertised P90X system, are intended for folks who have already established an exercise habit. Palamarchuck suggests checking out exercise programs on cable television that won’t cost you a penny extra.

Fitness video games
“Wii Fit” is the exercise system that seems to be hogging the spotlight these days. In October 2009, Nintendo introduced “Wii Fit Plus,” which offered an upgrade to the original set of interactive exercises. “As far as entry level, I think it’s great,” Palamarchuck said. The Wii does offer a variety of activities, which can help fend off boredom.

(c) 2010, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.