THE CHOICES YOU make about how you live your life can sometimes feel like an endless series of cost-benefit assessments. But among everything else vying for your attention, you should maintain one non-negotiable: You can’t afford not to stay in shape. Yes, there are upfront costs: Workouts take time, gyms charge money, and eating healthy can cost a little of both. But study after study (after study!) shows that by staying active, you’ll feel better physically and mentally. You can feel stronger, fitter, gain an improved outlook—and maybe even add years back to your life.
It doesn’t even take all that much to get started. The CDC recommends that adults aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity—or even half that if you’re more “vigorous” about it. You should also include some muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week. Do the math, and that’s an investment of only about 20 minutes a day—and less if you’re hustling.
Depending on what you make and how hard you have to work to do it, though, even that amount of time might feel too costly. According to a 2021 report in the Journal of Physical Activity based on data from 2018, lower income households participate in physical activities at a far lower rate than higher income households. Participation rates are also lower among Blacks and Hispanics compared to whites. “Generally, adults of higher socioeconomic status report more leisure-time physical activity than adults of lower SES,” says Geoffrey Whitfield, Ph.D., Team Lead for the Epidemiology and Surveillance Team at the CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch. “We see this with both income and education, two common indicators of SES.”
A recent survey of 2,113 people by fitness consumer insight firm ClubIntel had similar results. Two-thirds of respondents considered themselves to be generally “active,” meaning they were engaging in physical activity outside of their jobs. Not surprisingly, those making the most money tended to exercise the most often. In households making north of $150,000, for instance, 78 percent of people claimed to be active. In those making $50,000 or less, that rate drops to 58 percent. Among people who are unemployed, only about half reported that they were active.
Such challenges are very real. And even if you somehow make more, there are other demands from family, friends, and work conflicts to consider. Rich or not, married or single, old or young, we all have our own pinch points when it comes to exercise. Yet there are people who have figured out how to prioritize exercise anyway. Their trick is to identify the biggest personal challenge, and then find a way around it.
Men’s Health talked to four men from a range of income levels who have learned that the answer isn’t always to spend more on fitness, but to make the most with what you’ve got. Some may have pricey life hacks, but the underlying solution—be