No Fancy Gym Required

08/30/2011 08:15 am ET | Updated Oct 30, 2011

By Elizabeth Nolan Brown for

Big cities can sustain gyms, fitness classes and exercise options for every taste. In New York and Los Angeles, zany new fitness offerings show up all the time (remember hoopilates, Brooklyn?). Yoga classes and pilates studios are omnipresent and a bit passe. Washington, D.C. is packed with massive, polished gyms, catering to the downtown work crowd and offering up exotic new workout options all the time. But what about elsewhere? Are mid-westerners doomed to work out at a Curves tucked between T.J. Maxx and Little Ceasar’s?I was certainly worried (well, as much as any exercise-averse individual can be) about how limited the workout options might be when I moved to Lafayette, Indiana.

This isn’t where I tell you that actually, there turned out to be tons of fitness studios and classes here, in case that’s where it sounded like this was headed. There’s one yoga studio in downtown Lafayette with weird hours and not a lot of variety, and another across the river in West Lafayette. There’s a Pilates studio near downtown that I’ve yet to check out because its website looks like the digital equivalent of a late-night infomercial. West Lafayette houses Purdue University, and students can go to the campus gym, but I have yet to see a mega-gym anywhere else. And as far as I can tell, your only options here if you want to, say, join an adult kickball league -- or any of those other recreational leagues so popular in cities -- would be to sneak into a student inter-murals.

I’ve always sort of hated those kickball leagues, though. And as many times as I told myself I was going to take all sorts of fancy fitness classes in the city, I didn’t. And, despite the lack of frills in my new hometown, I’ve found there are plenty of things to keep me physically occupied here:

Dance classes. In smaller places, there might not be as many specially-designed dance fitness classes, but you’re likely to find plain old tap, ballet, jazz or hip hop for adults taught at a local dance studio or community center -- and at a fraction of the price.

Safe streets. Though a lot of cities have stepped up efforts to create safe streets, walking or biking near traffic, through busy streets, in smog, or at night can all cause problems in big cities. But out in the country, the suburbs, the small towns, you encounter sleepier, safer, greener neighborhoods. Not always, of course -- country roads or empty suburban streets might be more dangerous in some places than well-lit, crowded city streets. But if you do find yourself in an idyllic small-town street setting, take advantage of it but walking, biking and jogging as much as possible. Free, fresh-air exercise is easily accessible in small towns, as long as you don’t totally give into the dominating car culture. Plus, you’re a lot less likely to get your bike swiped by parking it outside.

Nature. With the river a few blocks away, there are all sorts of areas to walk and bike around it. And a quick drive or bus ride away, there are several areas for hiking. Living outside of the city can make it easier to access places to hike, bike, climb and roam on weekend afternoons.

Low-Cost Workouts. Where cost-of-living is lower, like here, the classes and other fitness amenities that are around tend to get more affordable. I don’t think I’d like working with a personal trainer, but it’s also not something I ever thought I could afford. Here, however, personal trainers advertise one-on-one or small-group/partner sessions for as little as $30 an hour. Instead of spending money on a gym membership or taking group classes like you might in a big city, you could work out with a personal trainer every week.

Space. I have a lot more room to use and store things, like my exercise ball and weighted hula-hoop (yes, I hopped on that idea), for easy access around here than in my former cramped railroad and studio apartments in the city. It’s amazing how much easier that makes actually using them.

And last but not least: Never underestimate the Y. They’re everywhere, and in some places, they have top-notch gyms. The downtown Columbus, Ohio YMCA was housed in its original building, and so classes and changing rooms had oak doorways with heavy wood doors and ornate fire places. Most Ys seem to at least offer a handful of yoga, dance, cardio and strength-training classes, and prices are comparatively low.

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