If you’re looking to improve your fitness, you might be thinking about the best way to do this, whether it’s joining an exercise class, going to the gym or starting running.

But one thing that can dissuade people from getting or staying in shape is the potential cost of exercise, particularly at a time when reducing outgoings is a priority for so many. Even a basic monthly gym membership can set you back over £20 (or more if you live in a big city), and you may have to pay even more for fitness classes or equipment.

The good news is that getting fit doesn’t have to break the bank. Read on for our top suggestions on how to burn calories without burning a hole in your pocket as well.

(Remember to talk with your GP or a healthcare expert before starting an exercise routine if you have diabetes or a heart condition.)

Exercising outdoors

Running, jogging or walking

Running or jogging is one of the easiest and most accessible ways of getting started on your fitness journey. Don’t be put off if you haven’t been on a run in a while or find yourself struggling at first – just like anything else, it’s a skill, and you will find yourself building endurance and enjoying it more as you keep at it.

Running can provide several health benefits – it can help strengthen your lungs, heart and various joints in your body. Some studies suggest that it can even aid your memory as well.

Best of all, running is really cheap: all you need is some comfy, lightweight clothing and a pair of suitable shoes. A pair of trainers are normally just fine for running, but if you would prefer a pair of running shoes, there’s no need to splash out on a high-end pair as there are plenty of low cost options to choose from.

Exercising outside can also be a great opportunity to be social and meet new people. See whether your area has a running club you can attend, or if your local park holds a free parkrun on Saturday mornings. These environments are rarely competitive or judgemental, so don’t worry about being slow.

If you struggle with running, then walking can be a great alternative. Set yourself a distance or step-based goal every day or week and stick to it as best as you can. Most modern smartphones come equipped with a basic health-tracking app that can assist with this, so you don’t always need to shell out for a fitness monitor either.

Learn more about the health benefits of running and some tips on getting started in our article A beginner’s guide to running.

Local sports clubs

If you would prefer to get involved in a team sport, there are a few resources that can help you find local groups to get involved with. This is another easy way to combine fitness with socialising.

Websites like Meetup, Eventbrite, Sportas (London only) and even Facebook are great for finding local sports clubs, or you can check your local gym for flyers. Sessions may be free, but even if you have to pay, this will usually be cheaper than booking a court or pitch yourself.

Outdoor gyms

If you like the idea of exercising with gym equipment but find the fees at your local gym too expensive, take a look online to see if there are any outdoor gyms in your area. They can usually be found in or next to public parks, and are almost always free to use – you can just show up and start exercising.

Exercising outside rather than inside is thought to help you feel more revitalised and can even lower your blood pressure and heart rate more effectively, so don’t think of exercise in an outdoor gym as second-rate.

It’s common to feel a bit self-conscious working out for the first time, and this can be compounded by being outside, but don’t let this deter you. Remember that nobody is paying attention to or judging you, so do your best to relax and enjoy yourself.

Of course, it is shared equipment, so remember to be considerate of others. If you aren’t sure what a piece of equipment does or how to use it, there may be an instructional label on it, or you can ask another gym-goer – they’ll usually be happy to show you how it works.

Exercising at home

It’s entirely possible to get a good full-body workout at home without spending a fortune on exercise machines and weights. You can achieve this through a combination of callisthenics (exercises that rely on your body weight, such as push-ups and squats) and cheap equipment. Or, you can explore specific disciplines such as yoga, Pilates, or dance, which we look at further down.

Even a daily half-hour workout from home can have immense health benefits, so figure out a routine that works for you and set aside some time each day. Common callisthenics that you can try incorporating into your home workout include:

  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Squats
  • Leg raises
  • Burpees (a push-up followed by a standing jump)
  • Mountain climbers (quickly moving your knees up to your chest and back down from a push-up position, one after the other).

Look up video tutorials on any of these if you are unsure how to do them. They’re a fantastic way of strengthening your muscles and building endurance, and you don’t have to spend a penny.

However, if you are keen to expand your routine, investing in even one piece of equipment can open up a host of additional home workout possibilities. Do your research and find out which equipment best suits your budget and workout goals – for example, you can buy a set of resistance bands for less than £10 from several retailers, and use these for strength training. Our article on the 11 best home gym equipment to boost your workouts contains some more useful suggestions.

Our article 5 steps to staying fit from home provides more advice on developing a home workout routine that suits you.

Yoga and Pilates

If you’ve taken an interest in a movement-based exercise such as yoga or Pilates, don’t feel like you absolutely need to pay for classes. All that’s really required is a mat, some comfortable clothes and a good online class.

Yoga and Pilates share some similarities in that they are both movement-based exercises with a focus on breathing that can boost your strength, flexibility, posture and overall well-being. Pilates is generally considered a bit more physical – you tend to move around more, while yoga is about holding poses – so you might prefer Pilates if you want to get a more intense workout.

You can learn more about both of these forms of exercise and their unique benefits in our articles An introduction to yoga and An introduction to Pilates over 50.

Whichever discipline you choose, both are extremely flexible (no pun intended), meaning you can opt for a style and level of intensity that suits you and your body. There are loads of free online classes on Youtube that you can follow along with and see what suits you.

However, if you would prefer to follow an instructor in an online group setting, Rest Less Events hosts four pilates classes each week, one dru yoga class each week and seated yoga every fortnight. You can access unlimited events for just £6.99 a month, or £69.99 a year, meaning you can attend as many as you like once you’re subscribed. Check our fitness calendar to find out more or join the Rest Less Fitness Community on Facebook.


If yoga or Pilates don’t quite sound like your speed, then dancing is another form of exercise you can pick up easily from home. It’s a fantastic way to build strength, burn off calories and keep your mental health in good shape. All you really need is a laptop and enough space to move around freely.

If you aren’t sure where to start, our guide 11 online dance classes for beginners lists some great online classes to try out in a variety of musical styles.

Cutting the cost of the gym

If you are really keen to make use of an indoor gym for your workout, don’t just go for the closest option.

As far as major chains go, Pure Gym is among the cheapest, offering “off-peak” memberships starting from £15.99 a month, with classes included. Elsewhere, The Gym offers monthly memberships ranging from around £11.99 to £18.99 depending on the branch (with a few in London costing £20+), with locations open 24 hours a day.

Many gyms, such as Anytime Fitness, Nuffield Health and Fitness First offer free trials, though this is generally only for one or a few days, so it’s not ideal for developing a long-term workout plan. However, if you are on the fence about joining a gym and want to have a go before you commit to paying for it, then definitely make use of one of these trials first.

Gyms tend to offer New Year’s discounts in January as well, so see if any of your nearby gyms are doing so, though be aware that the discount will typically only apply for your first month.

Finally, many gyms offer discounts on memberships or classes to seniors. For example, some Better Health centres offer a discounted senior membership for people aged 66 or over (the exact discount varies between locations). Check with your local gyms to see what they offer if you think you might qualify for a seniors discount.

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