You know exercise is important, but you put it off, repeatedly. Getting in shape can be like traveling to a remote outpost in a foreign country: an unlikely — and expensive — journey.

You know exercise is important, but you put it off, repeatedly. Getting in shape can be like traveling to a remote outpost in a foreign country: an unlikely — and expensive — journey.

If you get out of breath after one flight of stairs, paying a start-up fee to join a gym or fitness club — with no confidence you will have the motivation to return — may not make economic sense.

It doesn't have to be that way, says exercise instructor and enthusiast Maralee Sheadel, who teaches Zumba classes through Central Point Parks and Recreation Department. Just like the proverbial trip that begins with a single step, toning your muscles can start with an affordable class in your own neighborhood.

"A lot of people feel like they can't join a gym; they feel overweight and out of place," says Sheadel. "At a park-and-rec class, there are all ages, sizes and abilities. People get off the couch."

In her Zumba classes, Sheadel witnesses camaraderie surfacing like muscle tone among class participants. She believes it leads to improved attendance, better workouts and sometimes to gym memberships and a longer-term commitment to exercise.

"You see people a couple times, and you make a visual connection. When someone's missing, you ask what happened when you see them again. When you are absent, they do the same with you," Sheadel says.

Along with a growing accountability, participants realize they are having fun, says Sheadel. "You tend to push yourself a little harder," she says. "Watching others, you say, 'If that girl can do it, I can too.' It's a lot more fun than treadmills."

"We try to get people interested in healthy lifestyles," says Jennifer Boardman, park and recreation manager for Central Point. The department offers beginning classes, usually one night a week. Class prices run from $6 to $9 per session, which covers the costs of the instructor and venue, she says.

Sue McKenna, recreation supervisor for Medford's Parks and Recreation Department, says affordability is key when city staff plan classes.

"We have top instructors working with us to keep prices down." Instructors know how to make the classes accessible to all levels of fitness, she says.

"If you are just getting back into shape, just do what you can and work up to more," says McKenna. She encourages people to think outside the traditional exercise box. "Getting out and doing something is exercise," she says.

For example, Medford and Central Point offer starter programs with The Evergreen Ballroom, or you can try tai chi, yoga or body-sculpting classes. Medford has drop-in badminton and pickleball opportunities that cost only $2 each, says McKenna.

"Sit and Be Fit at the Central Point Senior Center is free," says Boardman.

Joining that single class can lead to a bigger commitment, say the professionals.

Working with Superior Athletic Club, Medford Parks and Recreation created a "Biggest Winner" class, which got people in the gym using weight machines for six weeks through March. The program offered an hour of coaching with a personal trainer, body-fat measurements and access to nutrition counseling.

Going three times per week and spending half an hour on the weight machines is getting both McKenna and her husband into shape. "I don't lift heavy or hard," she says, but added muscle tone is improving her golf game, especially those shots out of the tall grass.

Annie Wall, of Central Point, a former aerobics teacher, used to exercise in her own garage, but a foot injury halted her program. When it was time to get back in shape, she looked for something close and found Sheadel's Zumba class.

"I hate to exercise but love to dance," she says. "With Zumba, before you realize it, you're done and you've exercised. You move every muscle in your body. It is the most fun I've had in ages."

Wall plans to work back into a gym membership but having the Central Point parks class meant she could start close to home. And she loves seeing neighbors in class.

"It's kind of neat to get to know them better," she says. "I hope they continue to offer the class."