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Shaping up without a gym

Go ahead, join an expensive gym. Set the alarm clock an hour early and pledge to spring gleefully out of bed and into your running shoes six days a week. Resolve to lose 3 pounds a week until you can count your ribs.

Go ahead. We'll see you and your broken promises back here in April.

We're not trying to be pessimistic here. Just, you know, a little realistic.

And maybe a little creative.

It's hard to make big lifestyle changes, and we're more interested in fun than drudgery anyway, so we brainstormed and polled some experts to come up with ways to get moving that should elicit far more smiles than groans.

No chance we're going to make you into a Mr./Mrs. America type, but the fitness gurus told us time and time again that every little bit counts.

And every little bit might just as well be a pretty good time.

  • Take a coffee break: Does that sound beside the point? Not if your coffee break is four blocks away. Chances are you're already taking time out of your workday for this kind of release, probably with a reliable gossip buddy. Now get the gossip while you walk back and forth rather than while you sit and stir. It might not seem like much, but it'll definitely work against the calories in that creamer.
  • Have a kid: Okay, don't have a kid. That might be a little extreme as methods of fitness motivation go. But if you do have a kid (or two or three), make it a point to play with them. "Put them on a sled," says Tim Chudy, a St. Louis-based personal trainer. "Play games with them, play tag. ... You're spending time with them and getting some physical activity." And if you're not a parent, we bet you know a few little ones you could borrow once a week. Or you could coach a youth sports team and see how breathless, but delighted, it leaves you.
  • Play fetch: Don't they all look so happy, those strolling dog owners all bundled up in the night? And why not — the love of a faithful companion, the endorphins of an accelerated heart rate? It's easy to commit to a good, long walk every time the temperature is perfect and the sky is cloudless. But get a dog and we promise you'll walk rain or shine. What's not to love? A fitter you packaged with adoring eyes and a wagging tail.
  • Be a team player: Literally. Team sports are a vital part of lots of people's social lives. Join an adult kickball team and you'll probably widen your circle of friends tenfold. Same with soccer or softball or hoops. Not to mention the countless clubs for running, hiking, biking, swimming and bull riding. Okay, maybe not bull riding. But you get the point. Even if you're not a natural athlete, you can still sign up. Most organizations go out of their way to welcome beginners.
  • Watch TV: But do it on the floor. That is another of personal trainer Chudy's favorites. Almost everyone watches the tube eventually, but Chudy says that just by parking yourself on the floor, you're more likely to stretch or do crunches than, say, crunch on a bag of chips.
  • Dance with the masses: Or your friends at least. The point is, who cares about stars, and who cares about your couch? This is about you and that flash-dancing maniac you've kept locked away for too long now. Christine Haas, a Herndon, Va.-based personal trainer, tells her clients to set up regular dance sessions with a partner or at a local dance school. Tango? Tap? Hip-hop? Belly dancing? There are classes for every style of dancing. And breaking a sweat at a nightclub works just as well, Haas says. But make sure you're refueling with water instead of sugary cocktails.
  • Go green: And organic! And stop spending so much money at Whole Foods! Michael P. O'Donnell, editor of the American Journal of Health Promotion, prods his colleagues to plant a vegetable garden if they have the space. It might not appear to be the most vigorous activity, but all that digging and watering and care-taking can add up. Plus, O'Donnell says, it creates a "more personal relationship with food," especially when you play farmer and chef.

So, none of that sounds that bad, right? And none of it will cost you $69 a month or fill you with so much dread you'll choose to hide under the covers in sedentary hibernation till the next resolution-season rolls around, right? Okay, good. Glad we could help. And if you're looking for more easy ideas along these lines, check out Uncle Sam's similarly minded Web site, www.smallstep.gov.

Playing in the snow with your kids can become a worthwhile workout during the winter, just one outdoor activity that can get you in shape without the benefit of a gym.