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5 Fresh Ways to Stay Fit Without a Gym Membership

by Sarah Menkedick Jan 3, 2009
There are ways to stay fit that don’t involve an inordinate degree of peppiness, pain, or a gym membership.

WAIT, YOU MIGHT BE SAYING HERE, I am not the sporty type who looks as if she’s just bounded out of a Gatorade commercial at 7 AM.

To you I say, there are plenty of ways to run that do not involve the drudgery (which I admittedly love) of throwing on an old t-shirt and hitting the streets for 50 minutes of sweat and tears.

The Hash House Harriers offer one of the best ways to forget you are actually running. You’ll get caught up in the spirit of camaraderie, following a paper trail through the Malaysian jungle or the Australian outback or central Beijing. Before you know it, you’ll be beaming proudly as you pour beers over your head.

Here’s a tutorial video about “hashing”:

I suggested to my husband that we go on a Hash run in Borneo and the look I got in response was somewhere between contempt and utter disbelief that I could understand him so poorly. Yet, we ran (after intense bargaining) and even he, who thinks my addiction to running is some sort of genetic defect, loved it.

It’s all about the spirit of community, beer drinking, storytelling, and (don’t tell anyone) getting a little exercise in. The HHH are everywhere around the world, and usually have one to two runs a week.

For those of you who can imagine enjoying, or actually do enjoy, hitting the road for a run from time to time, mix it up by looking for international races. Race to a Zapotec archeological site in Mexico. Head to Bermuda for a half-marathon. Run an international marathon (down the Champs Elysees in Paris! Through Tiananmen Square in Beijing!)

If you’re bored with your running routine, or need motivation to get started, it might be worth it to aim for one of these races as a goal.

Get creative and stay consistent with homemade routines.

Bond with a couple cans of pinto beans and a sturdy chair and commit yourself to using them for a series of exercises on a regular basis.

Even the major fitness buffs at your hard-ass neighborhood gym concede that you really only need to do a couple sets of weights and exercises three or four times a week to build muscle tone and stay fit.

Plenty of simple routines require little more than an improvised canned good, a jump rope (find a few here) and, of course, your own motivated visions of your sleek muscular self on some Brazilian beach.


Tango, salsa, belly dancing, drunken disco gyrations, whatever. After a sedentary day in front of the computer, I crank up the radio and let loose (with only the dog as witness). Dance classes are taking off in popularity; here in Oaxaca alone there are classes in Arabic and African dance, modern dance, and, of course, salsa.

They’re all good workouts, and force you to use your body in ways that you probably don’t in your day-to-day routine. Night owls can get their eat and drink on and then dance it off ‘till dawn.

Take a multi-day hike.

If this sounds daunting, I’ll affirm that all you need to pull this off are commitment and an altered, slowed sense of time. There are multi-day hikes in many countries that go between villages and cities and offer an intimate relationship with the landscape.

The Grand Randonnees in France are a great example: a series of trails that crisscross the country, they are usually well-marked and maintained, leading you through vineyards, lavender fields, tiny villages, and, yes, over the occasional mountain.

The hike adds a whole new dimension to the French travel experience, and goes beyond downing wine at your overpriced Parisian hostel.

Head to the local bookstore or look up hiking clubs to see what’s available vis-à-vis longer trails. Ask locals if it’s possible to hike between villages and whether you could get a guide, detailed maps, or both.

You don’t have to go fast and you don’t have to lug 40 pounds of gear up unconquered peaks; you simply have to walk, and (ideally) lose yourself in it.

Start a random activities night.

There is a lot of room for creativity here. Hipsters may opt for kickball, sportier types rugby or soccer (a friend of mine played nude soccer on a weekly basis in Vietnam), and more whimsical, creative, and/or nerdy types an improvised games night.

Being the latter personality I, along with a host of grad student friends, started up a games night in Madison, Wisconsin, in my last year of school there. Red Light, Green Light, Capture the Flag, you name it; count on a lot of nostalgia and a certain degree of physical activity.

So don’t despair, even if you’ve fallen off the fitness wagon. Think outside the jock box—tango, trek, get into a wild game of freeze tag—and indulge yourself in a big ol’ bag of cheese Ruffles and an oatmeal stout, as I’m going to do as soon as I finish another solo dance marathon in the living room.

Community Connection:

Interested in learning to dance? Check out our latest video, Learning to Dance Tango. Or maybe you’re more the running type? Give our 10 Tips for Beginning Marathoners a try.

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