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Best gym deal -- at a hospital?

Fitness centers affiliated with medical centers are clean and state of the art, and they might be cheaper than regular gyms.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 13, 2012 12:05PM

Image: Woman on rowing machine (© Jupiterimages/Brand X/Getty Images)Need to get in shape? Beware of the hard-sell health clubs that try to get you to commit to a multiyear contract. Look for a gym that lets you pay by the month or by the quarter, and shop around for the best price.

One option you might not have considered: hospital-affiliated fitness centers -- and not because doctors are nearby if you give yourself a hernia while lifting weights.

According to personal finance expert Clark Howard, hospital health clubs are "clean, well-run and don't force stinking contracts on you." Many sell memberships to the public as well as to their employees.

Some hospital gyms cost the same as health clubs in their regions, but some cost less. Since they're often rehab-based, you may find services and facilities you can't get in those hard-body-heaven storefronts. For example: 

  • Gottlieb Center for Fitness (affiliated with Loyola University) in Melrose Park, Ill., has hundreds of workout/fitness machines, a heated pool, a lap pool, an indoor track, a basketball court and more than 100 kinds of fitness classes. The monthly fee is $46 to $61, depending on what time of day you use the facility.
  • Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas has a fitness center and offers a wide variety of classes -- everything from aerobics to Zumba. The monthly fee is $40, or $65 per couple.
  • Loyola Center for Fitness (also a part of the Loyola University system) in Maywood, Ill., has cardiovascular and strength equipment, basketball and racquetball courts, an indoor track and more than 70 kinds of classes. The monthly fee is $67.

Patricia Cinque pays $75 a month to use the CentraState Fitness & Wellness Center, part of a nonprofit community hospital and health organization in Freehold, N.J. She describes it as being "like a resort . . . state-of-the-art equipment, pools, saunas, a Jacuzzi, every class imaginable, free training and nurse service."

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Cinque tried a $20-a-month health club, but as a woman in her 40s, she felt out of place among younger, ferociously fit members. Now she jokes that the higher cost might make her exercise more regularly in order to get her money's worth.

Feeling comfortable in a health club might make you more likely to go. Certainly fitness won't happen unless you make exercise a priority.

Ask your local hospital/health care system if there's a fitness center that's open to the public. Compare the facilities, joining fee (if any) and monthly costs with those of commercial gyms and health clubs. Ask if you can try the centers for a week, or even a day, before you commit.

Finally: Remember that no matter how cheap the gym, it's not a bargain unless you use it.

More on MSN Money

Many gyms give a free pass so you can try it for a few days without paying a dime.  Why not take the opportunity to visit them for yourself?  If you are older and injured, look for gyms with weight machines, many of which originated in the physical rehabilitation market and were adapted for general use.  Recumbent bicycles are easier on aging knees and most of us could do with a heated pool.  Yoga is also excellent to stretch muscles and to balance the strength of opposing muscle groups.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.