Why cancelling my gym membership got me fit

Image: Jo Abi warming up.

The gym has featured in my life on and off for the past twenty years. Why am I not a consistent gym-goer? Because it’s bloody inconvenient. Sure classes only go for around an hour but by the time I get dressed, drive there, do the class and get home, two hours of my day is gone.

I love exercising and when you do manage to get to the gym regularly you start to feel as though it’s the only path to true fitness. But guess what? It’s not. It’s just one path.

Here’s a newsflash – you can be fit and healthy without a gym membership. I’ve done it and so can you.

I cancelled my gym membership earlier this year because I wasn’t using it. I was too busy. I knew that for me to keep up with my exercise, it had to become a fluid part of my day. I don’t have gigantic windows of time in which to exercise. Yes I should be prioritising my health and sure I deserve time to look after my needs but to be honest, if I have two hours free, going to the gym isn’t how I want to spend them.

So I made a major change. I started incorporating incidental exercise into my day. It’s actually quite simple. Incidental exercise is any activity you can fit in without it being a huge inconvenience. You can do it while you’re watching TV, while you’re getting ready for work, while you’re driving the kids around to their many and varied activities and even while you are grocery shopping.

How? Just like this:

Walk absolutely everywhere

Never drive when you can walk, and I mean everywhere. Look at your week. Are you driving down the road for milk? Are you getting a lift to pick up some takeaway? Walk instead. Walking more often is the most effective and meditative change you can make to your day.

By walking, I don’t mean power walking in gym gear while carrying hand weights – although if you get the chance to do this, then go for it. I mean walking to your children’s school to pick them up and then walking back together, walking to the servo for milk, getting off the bus a few stops earlier and walking to work.  It is the easiest way to combine your everyday activities with exercise and so amazingly effective.

Play with the kids

I have two boys playing soccer this year which means two nights of training each week. At first I spent the time doing what all the other mums were doing, standing on the sidelines watching and chatting. Then I spotted some mums power walking instead. They were doing laps of the soccer field so they were exercising at the same time as keeping an eye on their kids. Brilliant!

I decided to take it one step further. I downloaded a running app on my phone and jogged laps of the oval instead. Every Tuesday and Thursday nights while the boys train I jog ten laps. I’ve been getting fitter and quicker and have managed to squeeze in an extra two laps lately. Whenever the boys need me for a toilet break, a drink or to attend to an injury I’m there. Then I just keep on jogging.

There's no 'passive sitting on the sidelines' for Jo

Stairs are your friend

From now on give travelators, escalators and lifts a big miss. Use the stairs instead. We’ve all got stairwells at work, at our children’s schools and at the shops - so use them. There’s no better butt workout. Don’t worry if you’re wearing heels or you’re carrying heavy bags. That’s even better. And you’re not going to get seriously sweaty because you’re only taking the stairs in short bursts. That’s the beauty of incidental exercise, a little bit of activity here and there all without ruining your hair or your makeup.

My children are all out of their prams now so this is easier for me than some but if you’re still using a pram then opt for travelators, walk to the shops using your pram and have a wander around the shops before sitting down for lunch or getting the groceries. Just get some extra steps in whenever you can, even if it’s not on the stairs.


Like watching TV? Good

My life unashamedly revolves around my favourite TV shows. Every Monday night it’s Revenge. On Tuesdays the new Nurse Jackie is on. Wednesday, The Good Wife. Thursday, I catch up on some episodes of Masterchef. Fridays, it’s movie night.

Yes, TV commercials are for housework and ironing school uniforms but while these shows are on, I’m doing floor work, baby. I’m doing girl-push ups (on my knees), tricep dips, crunches, leg lifts, whatever I want.

I tend to alternate. One night I’ll focus on my upper body and the next night I’ll focus on my legs and my butt. You don’t have to do floor work for the entire episode, just get a few sets in and feel free to pause briefly if something really interesting happens, like Daniel shooting Emily on Revenge or Nurse Jackie having a car accident moments after her divorce comes through. We’re human after all.

Speed up your housework

Housework is inescapable. So why not burn some calories while you’re doing it? Housework is awesome incidental exercise, especially if it is done vigorously. All you need to do is speed it up. Activities like vacuuming, making beds and dusting furniture score some major incidental exercise points. Trust me, you’ll be flexing and sweating before you know it.

Outdoor chores are even better. Sweeping verandas, driveways and courtyards are major arm workouts and washing your car...can you say ‘bend and stretch’? Got kids? Jump on the trampoline for a few minutes before you clean all their food wrappers off it. Clean cobwebs off the awning, give those windows a scrub and remember, keep it speedy.

Kids and animals need a workout, too

If you’re looking after children and animals (not the same thing of course) you have plenty of chances to exercise and have fun doing it. You can take your kids to the park and stand on the sidelines sipping coffee or you can get in amongst it. You can sit down and watch as they play ball games or you can get your trainers on and kick and bounce the ball alongside them.

Every day I see people on my street walking their dogs, at a snail’s pace. They have to keep going until their dog ‘goes’. Well guess what peeps? Nothing works better than a light jog. That’s right, start jogging and they’ll start pooping. It works every time.

Never pass up the chance to do a major workout

Every now and then you’ll get the chance to do a major workout. Take it. Just because you don’t get to do it the prescribed 4-6 times per week for one hour, preceded by a green smoothie and followed by some egg whites, doesn’t mean you should give up all together. I have a brilliant selection of hard workout DVDs at home for such an occasion or I’ll sometimes head off for a good old thirty minute jog if my husband and the kids are busy doing something else.

Workout DVDs are such a blast. I own lots of them, everything from vintage Aerobics Oz Style to Michelle Bridges Ripped and Extreme. Sometimes the kids join in. Sometimes the husband does. Sometimes it’s just me flinging myself around the lounge room. Every bit of exercise you can manage to get – large or small, regular or irregular – counts.

When it comes to health and fitness we are the sum of what we do every single day so do what you can, when you can, as often as you can.