The Real Cost... of Fitness

What gym classes and at-home workouts will really set you back.
By Teri Cettina
When exercise drops off your to-do list, it can be a costly omission. In addition to helping beat stress, “regular exercise strengthens your immune system and boosts your mood, both of which can reduce your risk for colds, flu and more,” says Richard Kratche, MD, medical director for the Cleveland Clinic’s Twinsburg Family Health and Surgery Center. Even bigger, it can prevent, delay or improve conditions and diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and arthritis. So those treadmill sessions can trim your thighs and your budget—of prescription co-pays, doctor bills and hospital visits. And workouts can help you be a healthier, calmer parent: priceless. Here’s what you can expect to invest in some common fitness options.

Gym memberships offer exercise classes, weight equipment, cardio machines and more. if your gym is close to work, you can work out on your lunch hour or before or after office hours. most clubs offer on-site child care for an extra fee. Some let you sign up, for an added fee, for time with a personal trainer (see below). Annual cost $500 on average, though high-end clubs (with pools, racquet centers, extensive kid programs) can run up to $2,400. Time cost three to four hours a week, plus commute time. For lunch-hour workouts, factor in showering/grooming time. Bottom line “Use a week pass to thoroughly check out a gym before signing up,” suggests Shirley Archer, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and author of Fitness 9 to 5: Easy Exercises for the Working Week. “Be cautious about multi-year contracts and cancellation requirements.” Some health plans may offer gym-fee reimbursements.

Home workouts (DVDs, online programs) are great if you prefer to exercise privately. Start by borrowing, renting or sampling programs on YouTube. When you’re ready to commit, Archer suggests sticking to three related DVDs/programs for eight weeks to master the moves. Your trio should include gentle (for stressful or short-of-sleep days), average and “kick-butt” programs. Annual cost for DVDs, $120 (three new $10 DVDs a quarter); for online programs, free from sites like and Lionsgate BeFit on offers online workouts for $10 a month, while offers training videos and more for $20 a month. Optional equipment: shoes ($100), yoga/Pilates mat ($20), yoga/Pilates strap ($10), varied hand weights ($25). Time cost three to five hours a week. Bottom line inexpensive, but with an opportunity cost—no instructor to push you, modify tough movements or correct your form. These programs work best after you’ve taken actual classes or as filler workouts for time-pressed or travel days.

Yoga/Pilates/Barre classes emphasize flexibility, resistance training and—depending on the class—mindfulness/relaxation. They can be your primary workout or add stretching to your overall workout regimen. Annual cost usually included in gym memberships; otherwise, up to $1,800 for weekly sessions ($10 to $35 average per group class), more if you attend more often or opt for private classes. Time cost about 55 minutes a week for a single class; more if it’s your primary workout (two or three times a week). Bottom line fairly good amount of individualized attention for the price. Monthly passes are often a better deal. These activities generally don’t offer a cardiovascular workout, so add cardio on other days. Carve out the time and cash that suit your life and budget, and just do it!

Personal trainers gives you customized workout plans, tweak your exercise technique and offer encouragement. You may be more likely to stick with exercise after this one-on-one or small-group “coaching.” Annual cost About $900 to $2000 for a year of twice-monthly sessions ($38 to $82 per hour, on average). Upscale gyms or in-home trainers may charge up to $150 a session. However, you may not need a trainer for a full year. Time cost At least two hours per month, in addition to a regular exercise routine. Bottom line Pricey, but with high payback. Trainers can customize programs to fit your temperament and schedule and quickly correct mistakes that could cause injury. “To cut costs—and make it more social—share a small-group training session with up to two friends or colleagues,” suggests Archer.

The True Cost of Sick Days
Employee absenteeism (sick days, disability leave, injuries, etc.) is expensive for companies, costing them $2,650 per salaried employee per year and $3,600 annually for hourly workers (for replacement workers, job delays, lost productivity costs, etc.) according to a study by Circadian, a workforce solutions firm. And according to a recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, companies lose approximately $84 billion per year in lost productivity when employees take sick days due to chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity.                      

Frugal Workout Options

Use your commute.
Get off your bus or train a stop early—or park farther away if you drive— and walk the rest of the way to work.

Sneak it in. 
Add bits of exercise throughout your day. Take the stairs. Do wall push-ups in the restroom or break room. Squeeze and hold your ab muscles while sitting at your computer.

Join the “outdoor gym.” 
Run or walk outside. Intersperse with squats or standing push-ups against the back of a park bench.