Slimming down the cost of getting fitter

When most people decide they want to get into some sort of exercise routine, their first consideration is often cost. You can start by checking the Sunday newspaper circulars – what’s on sale at Target? Does anybody know of any good workout DVD’s? Does Sears have a decent treadmill that I can put on my credit card?

The good news is that there are even more options than these, some of which are even free.

First things first: start by talking with your primary care physician (PCP) about your specific goals. Your doctor will tell you what they think you’re physically up to doing, and they can often refer you to a nutritionist, physical therapist, or other specialist, if such attention is needed. If your PCP is part of a “patient-centered medical home” (sometimes called a “PCMH”), your health insurance plan may cover visits to your doctor with a reduced (or $0!) co-pay. The key thing here is that you never want to start a new exercise plan without checking in with your doc FIRST.

Second: look at no-cost options. Make sure you actually LIKE the exercise/plan you’re trying out before you invest cash in it. Consider walking or running in your neighborhood before you buy a treadmill or get a gym membership. Cable TV subscribers can often benefit from “On Demand” services offered through cable providers like Cox, Comcast and Time Warner that allow you to view unlimited quantities of exercise videos as part of your cable subscription. Try before you buy those DVD’s!

Third: Use the discounts that you get through sources OTHER than the paper. Many health insurance plans, especially the national biggies (i.e., Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Healthcare, Aetna and Cigna) offer “wellness” programs that include discounts on everything from gym memberships to equipment to apparel. Some insurers also offer rewards for completing wellness activities, like completing online health assessments or going for an annual physical exam. Go to your insurer’s web site or call the customer service number on the back of your insurance card to get the skinny on these discounts.

Fourth: Look at work! Many workplaces have started to offer wellness programs and rewards, sometimes in addition to those offered through the insurance plan. Rewards can be anything from cash reimbursement for specific activities and memberships to discounts on gym memberships, race registrations, and more. Check with the Human Resources (HR) department, as applicable, for more info on what may be available for you.

I’ve gotten some great deals for myself in the last 12 months, like personal training sessions at my gym paid for by my company, and 15% off my awesome sneakers for the marathon (Brooks Addiction) at the local running store, thanks to our health insurer. I know about these discounts mostly because I read the stuff that’s posted on the HR section of my company’s intranet, and I glance at our health insurer’s newsletter before I toss it in the recycle bin. I also occasionally log in and check our health insurer’s web site for new discounts, since deals are often updated there and not put in the printed material. In other words, there are LOADS of things out there to help reduce the cost of getting fitter, and they’re not always hidden in the most obvious places. Happy hunting! (and if you know of other good, semi-hidden/non-obvious sources, feel free to post them in the comments so others can benefit from your wisdom!)

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