"The exercise equipment industry is a running joke, perpetrated on the public by designers who like making people perform ridiculous physical feats."
The truth is that you don't need much at all to be in shape. You can become a perfectly healthy, fit person without spending a dime on equipment, or even a gym.
Just as with dieting, you need to let go of the idea that there's some "magic" to working out. Any physical activity burns calories, so important thing isn't finding the "most efficient way," to work out, but to find the way that works best for you. And the best way, in my opinion, is the easiest way.
"If you want to exercise, make it as easy as possible for you to do so."
Just like with eating poorly, your inactivity probably has a lot of causes that don't relate any personal defects. With many of the people I know, the real problem is that they set out on an exercise plan that are too difficult to stay motivated on.
-Don't start a plan that's too hard for you. If you aren't used to doing cardio, you're not going to be able to start running 3 miles everyday. A better plan is to run a quarter or half mile each day, then increase the distance when you feel like you've got some extra energy.
-Don't pick something that's a logistical hassle for you. Let's say you start a gym membership to lose some weight. How much time does that involve? You've got to come home from school/work, change into workout clothes, drive to the gym, do your routine, then drive home to shower and change clothes again. Even best case scenario, that's probably an extra 30 minute commitment that isn't the workout itself.
That extra hassle makes a difference. Not only do you have to be motivated enough to work out, you also have to be motivated enough to do all that extra stuff.
-Don't choose workouts that are boring! If you hate the activity, that's another motivational barrier. There are plenty of ways to exercise that you'll enjoy, or at least be able to combine with things that you enjoy.
-The "hassle" and "hate" factors can offset one another. If you like the activity, it's worth more hassle. If it's less hassle, you don't need to enjoy it as much.
So with those points in mind, I'd like you to try a very simple plan. It requires no special equipment, wastes no time with preparation, is easy on your body, and is easy to enjoy.
-Take a 45 minute walk everyday.
Doesn't seem like enough, does it? How can you ever hope to lose weight with something so simple?
Well guess what. For most people, that walk will burn around 200 calories. If you're watching your caloric intake and holding it steady, that 200 calorie difference means you're going to start dropping weight at a a nice, healthy pace.*
But maybe you have loftier goals than what a walking routine can provide. I understand. But why not start with this? It will get you used to regular activity, and the weight you lose will make any future workout programs easier on you.
A few notes before you begin:
1. Check your shoes. You'd be surprised how many aches and pains you have may be caused by worn out footwear. And since you're going to be walking more than usual, it's especially important.
2. Keep watching your calories! One of the great revelations of my dieting was that working out makes you hungrier. If you don't keep track of your calories, you end up eating more and compensating for all that exercise. One really good idea-keep some fresh carrots or other veggies around as a post workout snack.
3. Stretch after your walks. You'll be warm and loose from the activity, so it's a good time to do this. It will make you feel better and help you wind down.
4. Keep it from being boring. Take someone with you, or bring music/podcasts/audiobooks.
*Not to mention the psychological benefits.