Cardio for the poor and socially anxious with bad knees?
January 6, 2013 5:27 AM   Subscribe

Looking for advice on best way to get more cardio exercise, for both physical and emotional health. Limitations: poor, bad knees and socially anxious.

I occasionally practice yoga alone at home from a video workout, although it's challenging to stay motivated, and it doesn't provide much cardio. Ideally I would join a gym, but unfortunately that is not possible financially right now. I've also tried jogging, but due to knee injuries from playing volleyball, high-impact exercise like this, as well as sports involving sharp lunges, don't work very well. I'm 29-years old but have the creaky knees of an old lady, and have to avoid making them worse.

I also have problems with social anxiety, and exercising in public spaces, such as jogging or biking through streets and parks, is incredibly stressful and anxiety provoking for me. Exercise spaces such as gyms and group classes I don't find stressful, as they feel more like a safe space to be vulnerable and engaged - but again, these options are not really available financially at the moment.

Given these limitations, what would be the best way I could improve my physical and mental health through exercise? What options are available for free (or very low cost) physical activities I could do at home or in a safe public space? I'm living in Berlin, if that matters at all.
posted by Sarah_Lena to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd recommend buying a kettlebell - maybe a 6kg or 8kg one, no heavier. You can buy one in Berlin from here, either online or they have a store where you can find the one that feels best for you. It'll cost under 30 Euro. Study this Crossfit kettlebell video and start with the Russian swing (which isn't the fully-extended one but is up to about shoulder height). The swing comes from the hips, not the knees, back or arms. My Crossfit instructor demonstrated by attaching a teddy bear around his waist and showing us how the hips made the teddy swing (!).

I have the creakiest knees ever, and I'm fine using a kettlebell. It provides a great cardio workout and also exercises your core, butt, thighs, arms and shoulders.
posted by essexjan at 5:44 AM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yup, your being in Berlin means no Planet Fitness for $10 per month, which I would have pointed out if you were in the US! What kind of budget do you have, is it possible to get a stationary trainer for your bike and use it in your home?
posted by kellyblah at 5:44 AM on January 6, 2013

I have bad knees too. Ice skating is great aerobic/cardio exercise and a good workout too. Its advisable to wear a helmet do that plus headphones should help with the anxiety. A nice pair of skates is around the cost of a month at a gym and open public skating is usually around 2 euro... i relish skating every chance i get.

Its very easy to start and you will only be unstable for. 5 or 10 minutes. Its VERY easy to get started.
posted by chasles at 5:48 AM on January 6, 2013

I don't know whether your time availability, transportation setup and geography make this feasible, but I find that hiking on remoter and more rugged natural-surface trails is quite therapeutic to both my physical and mental health.

I don't know about Berlin, but here in the Washington DC metro area you can actually find natural-surface hiking trails all over the place within a 30 minute drive from the city core. On one that are well-known and well-marked, I might cross paths with a handful of other users in an hour; I also know of several trails/public natural spaces within a 20 minute drive from my suburban home where I have literally never seen another human being because there is no official trail map/set of marker blazes.

It takes longer to get to these types of trails than to get to the closest high-density asphalt multiuse urban paths. But for me it's worth the investment of a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to get some solitude-in-the-woods time. Also, if it is an uneven surface with changes in elevation, you get a better workout just walking that you would on a flat asphalt jogging trail.
posted by drlith at 5:56 AM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've been thinking about a somewhat similar problem these days. Although my knees are fine for now, I do carry undue stress in them and so I try to avoid straining them too much.

Do you have, say, an mp3 player and something sturdy to sit on? How about something like an aerobic chair workout? By that I mean something as simple as clapping your hands energetically /frantically to the awesome music you got pumping in the house, and otherwise moving to the music...except you gotta stay in the chair. As if you are playing a game with yourself: how long can I stay in this chair and groove to this crazy beat, before I just gotta get up and dance like a fool?

I do this when I want to take a break from the computer but not get up from it. It can end being a pretty good upper body aerobic exercise, depending on how fast the music is going. Accessories lke the kettlebell mentioned above might be good too. Since you're not moving your legs, your knees shouldn't be too affected by it. And you can do this at home, away from eyes. Plus, listening to your favorite music keeps yourself happy and smiling. Maybe it'll work for you!
posted by ditto75 at 6:00 AM on January 6, 2013

Best answer: Are there public, indoor pools in Berlin? In the US, these tend to run $3-$5 for admission. Swimming is low impact on your knees, and I find it's a low social anxiety thing because other people in the pool really can't see what you're doing, and they're too busy swimming, anyway, to notice you. If you're not a swimmer, a lot of those sorts of pools have aquajogging and water aerobics classes, too.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:01 AM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

The lady who writes the blog The Adventures of Diet Girl is doing a review of exercise dvds, and she has knee problems. She writes about how effective and motivating the videos are, and how/if they affected her knees. She has A LOT of reviews, and a video sample of each one on her blog. It would be great for you to check out!

I think it's difficult to stay motivated for exercise videos too, but can you reward yourself with an incentive chart or little treats? Or write about how good you feel after doing a video, and read it when you don't feel like working out? I also use music to stay motivated for exercise dvds.

Good luck to you!
posted by shortyJBot at 6:04 AM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

is an organisation offering relatively cheap - 10 euro a month or 50 euro for ten sessions - group classes in Neukölln. The "Gymnastik" sessions look easiest on the knees.

You could also look at Groupon offers for reductions on gym passes

And a lot of gyms and sports classes will offer a first trial session for free, with no obligation to go again.
posted by runincircles at 6:17 AM on January 6, 2013

Could you afford to hire an exercise bike so you could work out on it at home?
posted by Salamander at 6:35 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you would like to do video workouts that are more cardio-focused than your current yoga videos, see if you can get the Turbo Jam "Five Rockin' Workouts" DVD set at a price you can afford on eBay (I'm seeing some around $25, but I bet you can do better in a couple weeks when everyone else's new year's resolutions pass). These are aerobic and strength workouts that are pretty easy to follow but stay challenging and interesting enough even after you do them a bunch of times. The instructor always points out two people in the video that you can watch for low-impact alternatives to any of the exercises that would cause your knees trouble.
posted by dayintoday at 7:04 AM on January 6, 2013

Best answer: Berlin has some really beautiful public pools! Here's the website for the Berliner Bäder-Betriebe and a map of all of their pools. Most of them have a flat fee of 4 Euro, and you can stay as long as you like. A couple of pools charge by the hour, which ends up being 4 Euro for 2 hours or something. Swimming is really good exercise, and in most pools I've been in, there are lots of different people doing their thing: some serious lap swimmers, some people who are there mostly to gossip with a friend, some not-so-serious lap swimmers, little kids, water aerobics people. I find that there's the type of fellow feeling in a pool that you're talking about with classes. And I don't know how much the water aerobics cost, but you might look into that too. The classes always look like fun to me, because you get to watch your instructor do very strange looking things on the pool deck while listening to silly 80s music or whatever.

Actually, I just looked through the Berliner Bäder-Betriebe website, and here's the page about water aerobics. Can you read German? If you download the link for Kursprogramm 1. Halbjahr 2013 and go to page 32, you'll get the list of water aerobics classes: where and when. It looks like it costs 4 Euro per session, and if you want to sign up for a class that starts in April, you have to do so before Feb 11.
posted by colfax at 7:04 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you tried just walking? An hour a day of walking was the only exercise I did for years and it was plenty to make me feel mentally and physically okay. It's still the only thing my husband does.
posted by something something at 7:24 AM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I feel your pain. Literally. I used to run a lot but I can't anymore because of my left knee. I can't cycle more than occasionally without running (cycling) into trouble either.

Swimming is probably the best solution (although I personally hate it). When I lived in Berlin my flatmate used to swim at the Stadtbad Neukölln and really liked it. €4 per session can add up pretty quickly of course.

The only cardio exercise that I do is walking. I have heard or read that brisk walking is as good as jogging. To deal with motivation I take a route to work which requires me to walk for 20-30 minutes every day. There's no question of not doing it - I have to go to work and that's how I get to work. Half an hour's brisk walking five times a week plus body weight exercises at home keeps me pretty fit, trim and happy.
posted by neilb449 at 7:59 AM on January 6, 2013

Best answer: Came here to recommend swimming and water aerobics as well. Buying a multi ticket (10 visits / 25 visits) saves you some money.

Do you know Mc Fit ? This gym runs 19,90 Euro per month.

How about hiking? Is that okay with your knees? Join the meetup group, Berlin hikers.

You could also check out the VHS (adult education center) - they have all kinds of aerobics classes.
posted by travelwithcats at 8:47 AM on January 6, 2013

Jillian Michael's "30 Day Shred" videos might be worth checking out, though you might have to modify a bit of the cardio moves. There are lunges and squats, but they're not sharp or sudden.

Netflix streaming has a number of exercise videos, and you can rent/buy videos through Amazon's streaming service, too.
posted by jaguar at 10:45 AM on January 6, 2013

You might have to go to a gym to find a machine, but: rowing is gentle on the joints (knees and ankles). Great for cardio, though, a nice change from things like the stationary bike, treadmill or elliptical. Put some earbuds in and you're on your own, fleeing pirates or desperately trying to cross the Mediterranean.
posted by jquinby at 11:11 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I occasionally practice yoga alone at home from a video workout, although it's challenging to stay motivated, and it doesn't provide much cardio.

I suggest DDPYoga. It is yoga combined with dynamic resistance so you get a great cardio work-out through the yoga moves without any joint stress. All you need is the dvds, a mat and a heart rate monitor. Oh, and for motivation, ddpyoga has a great supportive crew through their website. If Arthur can, anyone can.
posted by Kerasia at 1:03 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Reddit r/bodyweightfitness has lots of info on devising your own bodyweight routine. You can go very far with burpees, squats, pushups, bridges, planks, etc.

If you can scrape together a bit of cash for a piece of equipment, your indoor cardio options expand:

Clubbell training - your best option IMO. A 2-4kg club won't be terribly expensive and will allow for convenient, zero-impact, full body, silent, stationary aerobic work.

Sledgehammer training - fun but loud. My neighbours can't help but know exactly how many tabata rounds I'm doing.

Bulgarian bag or sandbag training - very versatile; you can home-make these.

Battling ropes - great fun, but requires a lot of space.

TRX/gymnastic rings - more strength work than cardio. Possible to home-make. Obviously requires space & something to hang from.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 6:10 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Walking. Much easier on the knees and, as long as you keep the pace up, has almost the cardio benefit of jogging.
posted by dg at 8:56 PM on January 6, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all of great suggestions!

I have the creakiest knees ever, and I'm fine using a kettlebell. It provides a great cardio workout and also exercises your core, butt, thighs, arms and shoulders.

Kettlebell: I've never heard of a kettlebell before, essexjan, the Youtube video you linked is unfortunately not working in Germany (music rights issues) but I was able to find a bunch of other promising videos for kettlebell on there! My budget is fairly non-existent, but I could probably scrape together the one time 30 Euros if its something that I end up getting lots of use out of.

Stationary Bike Trainer: Unfortunately I don't have a bike here yet (it's sitting in the garage back in California, feeling abandoned.)

Ice Skating: Skating is a fun idea for an occasional outing, definitely! Not for my regular source of cardio (two-way train ticket, entry fee, skates, etc. would be more than I can regularly afford right now), but as a Canadian I was born on skates, and definitely love it!

Hiking: Hiking also sounds like it would a lovely occasional activity, although without a car, getting outside the city is a costly (time and money) venture for regular cardio. The meetup group Berlin Hikers definitely sounds like a great way to get out hiking occasionally and stay motivated with it, awesome idea!!

Swimming/Water Aerobics: Regular swimming solo is totally anxiety city for me, but I'm going to check out joining a Water Aerobics class at the nearby pool (it's right by the language school I attend, so that would be easy to fit into my daily routine). As long as the class is fairly cheap (and city-run classes usually are, thank goodness) then it could the way to go.

Cardio Workout Videos/Cardio Yoga: This could be a good addition to my at-home yoga routine, and the supportive crew at DDPYoga would definitely help a lot!

Rowing Machine: I love these machines, and if I could afford a gym membership right now, it would totally be back on one.

Walking: Right now this is totally my main source of exercise, I've walked more in this city than anywhere else I've live, even just for running daily errands. I love not having a car for that reason. Walking is why I'm not a wasted puddle of jelly muscles right now, it's just not enough for the good cardio blasts that I really need.
posted by Sarah_Lena at 12:44 AM on January 7, 2013

Is your language school on Karl Marx Str? If so, we could meet after 8pm for a swim - it's just 2,50 Euro and the pool is open till 10.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:17 AM on January 7, 2013

How much does a used, old, heavy stationary bike go for over there? I hated to cough up the $60 over here in NYC, but it has paid for itself many times over. I know that hiring someone to move it is a huge pain in a non-home city, but still.
posted by skbw at 8:45 PM on February 24, 2013

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