FW-78 -- Frugal Favorites (To Gym or Not to Gym?)

* * * * * * * * F R U G A L W A T C H * * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of how to be frugal in the world's most
expensive country to live (unless you read this!), written
and compiled by Wendy J. Imura.

Regular edition, November 2, 2005 Issue No. 78

- Frugal Favorites (To Gym or Not to Gym?)
- Credits

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+++ FRUGAL FAVORITES (To Gym or Not to Gym?)
(Note: While Frugal Watch author Wendy Jonas Imura is on
maternity leave, please enjoy a "Blast From the Past" - favorites
from past Frugal Watch issues. Wendy will resume new Frugal
Watch content in November.)

Dear Frugal Readers,

Joining a health club in Japan can be an expensive proposition. If you
are lucky enough to live near one, you will find that in many cases,
the facilities are quite nice. What they lack in space, they make up
for in a usually wide array of classes, equipment, and the obligatory
onsen/sauna. Most of the Japanese-owned chain clubs (such as
Tipness) offer a variety of membership packages: full memberships
(usually upwards of 12,000 yen a month), student memberships,
evening memberships (good from 8PM-10PM only for 6,000
yen/month), and others. Don't forget about the membership fee,
though this can be waived in some cases (check out Japanese
newspaper inserts - sometimes they advertise special deals).

As with any sort of investment in our health or education, joining
a health club is, first and foremost, all about good intentions. If you
INTEND on visiting the club three times a week, then the 12,000
yen/month fee at 12 times a month breaks down to 1,000
yen/visit - certainly cheaper than a day pass (usually around
2,000 yen). But it's amazing how quickly good intentions fall victim
to the realities of a busy life. My first year living in Tokyo, I joined
a nice, central gym downtown for 12,000 yen/month. While I went
about twice a week the first month, my busy work schedule got the
better of me, and I only went four times in the next five months.
If you do the math, you realize that this breaks down to about 15,000
yen PER VISIT! I cancelled my membership not long after -
chagrined but a lot wiser.

The moral of this story: consider very carefully if the monthly costs
of your gym membership will balance out over the long run. If you're
only likely to visit once a week, then (in most cases) purchasing
a simple day pass is likely to be cheaper. Also consider your
motivation: will paying for the privilege of exercising (which you
could do for free anyhow) actually motivate you to exercise more?
Or will guilt over your lack of gym attendance push you further into
coach potato-hood?

As my personality tends towards the latter, I found I actually had
better results exercising when I DIDN'T have a gym membership.
What did I do?

Well, the most frugal way to exercise more in Japan WITHOUT
a gym is an old Japanese favorite: walking.
In my case, I switched my commuting route so that I exited the
subway at a station one stop farther from my office than before.
This added an extra 1 km on foot (round trip) to my commute each
day, but after six months, I was five kilograms lighter. During rainy
or extremely hot weather, I always had the option of riding the extra
stop, but on nice days, the walk was great. I also began avoiding
the escalators and elevators in stations, department stores,
and buildings.
Climbing stairs builds muscle and burns calories. Finally, I bought
a plastic pair of dumbbells from the 100 yen store (the kind that you
can fill with water or sand), and did some very light weightlifting
while watching television at night. Cheap, frugal, and very simple.

Of course, there are many other non-health club options too - using
public sports facilities (such as pools or gymnasiums), joining
an amateur sports team, taking up jogging, or doing exercise videos.
And, if used wisely, health clubs DO provide a great place to get fit
and meet people. Just be careful that you really are getting your
money's worth based on how much you actually use your membership.

Frugally Yours,
Wendy J. Imura

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Written by: Wendy J. Imura (frugalwatch@japaninc.com)
Edited by: JI

Copyright 2005 Japan Inc. Communications Inc.