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Smart Consumer: It's gym life, but not as we know it . . .

Becoming fit and trim is an optimistic and even valiant thought that rears its head at this time of year. But for many of us, the comfort of the sofa and the choccie biscuits becomes too much to resist. And then there is the cost of it all. So is there a way of getting fit on the cheap?

Joining a gym is expensive, typically around €50 a month. At this time of year it's also worth warning about the terms and conditions you have to look out for when joining one. (See panel for tips).

Leisure centres managed by County Councils are another option but they aren't necessarily that much cheaper.

Dublin County Council's Markievicz Leisure Centre charges €55 a month for full membership or €6 for adults and €3 for children to use the pool. In Portlaoise, 12 months' membership at the town's leisure centre costs €37.50 a month, with entry to the pool the same price as the Markievicz centre.

At the Fermoy leisure centre it's dearer. Monthly pool membership is a pricey €58 and trips to the pool for adults costs €6.55 and children €4.10.

However, bear in mind that unlike some gyms, there isn't usually a one-off joining fee for these centres, so that could save you up to €200.

Perhaps best of all, and free, is walking, cycling or running outdoors. Save on fuel by cycling instead of taking the car, and walk to the next bus stop to get an extra bit of exercise.

If you feel you need support you could contact your local athletics club. There are hundreds around the country and you can find your nearest one on www.athleticsireland.ie.

In the Leevale club in Cork city annual family membership is €150 or €100 for an adult; in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, juniors pay €55 and seniors €75 for the year; while in Tramore, Co Waterford, membership is just €15.

And if you are a complete novice, check the Athletics Ireland website for clubs that run the Fit4Life programme.

You could also buy a fitness DVD and make a fool of yourself in your own front room, or use a programme through your games console.

Of course, hand-in-hand with the fitness end of things comes nutrition, or in other words the annual resolution to ditch the biscuits and treats.

But it doesn't have to mean spending a fortune on supplements and on exotic fruit for smoothies.

Aveen Bannon of the Dublin Nutrition Centre says that the first thing you should do is drink two litres of water a day because "if you keep yourself well hydrated you will feel better".

Bannon also advises using local and seasonal veg as it costs less than the exotic imports on offer. She suggests substituting meat for beans and chickpeas as they are a high-fibre, low-fat source of protein but are also much cheaper.

"Or go half-way by using less chicken or beef in a casserole and adding more veg and pulses instead. It's healthy and will save you money."

Irish Independent