Free Fitness

You may not want to hear this, but you now have one less reason not to exercise. Why? Because if you belong to a qualifying health plan, your gym membership, yoga classes, or zumba could be free. Independent Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield both offer plans that cover either partially or totally, the cost of exercise programs.

In Western New York, almost thirty-five percent percent of adults are overweight and over twenty-five percent are obese, according to a Univera Healthcare report. This causes—brace yourself—$458 million in excess medical costs each year (and that is just here, in WNY). In terms of the rising cost of healthcare, fiscal responsibility starts at home.

Independent Health members can check out individual benefits at under the Wellness Discount Directory. If you have a FlexFit plan you are eligible for a $250 debit card that can be used at participating gyms or fitness class of your choice. Medicare Advantage members who are in the Health Benefits Program are issued a Healthy Benefits card that allows them $150 worth of health, wellness and fitness programing. One of these programs is SilverSneakers, a fitness program designed for older folks and offered at the YMCA.

Blue Cross Blue Shield members will find information at’s Health and Wellness section. Eighty gyms and fitness professionals participate in BlueLife, which allows the member to go free of charge to eight to ten sessions of a fitness program each year ranging from Pilates to yoga, Zumba and Kardio Kick. The 90-Day program pays for a three-month membership to a fitness facility, and gets you a pre/post fitness assessment plus help designing your personal fitness program. Seniors win again with the FitBlue card that gives free memberships to more than 100 fitness centers.

Finally, Univera’s TakeSteps ( offers a complete plan for gradually increasing your fitness quotient.

Or just take a hike

Think about it. Twenty minutes on a treadmill vs. twenty minutes of brisk walking outdoors. Which costs less, which is more fun, and—most important—which makes you sweat more? For at least eight months of the year, WNYers have access to free public parks, preserves, trails, and similar facilities in the great outdoors that offer excellent walking/running/climbing opportunities. Most of them even have clearly stated difficulty levels. Keep your eyes open for natural and manmade beauty, and leave your headset at home so you can listen to the sounds of the birds, cicadas, and other creatures.

During the chillier weather of spring and fall, you’ll  want to bring the appropriate  clothing layers, but even during winter, most of these places have paved walkways that are kept plowed during all but major blizzards. Here’s a short list of free places to burn off calories without the boredom.

South Park ring road. This is a great place for winter walking. The scenery is stark but beautiful, anchored by the majestic domes of the Botanical Gardens. (

Niagara Falls parks. There are paved and unpaved trails throughout Niagara County’s state parks. You’ll feel small looking at the whirlpools, rapids, and Falls, but you won’t feel like a gerbil. (

Griffis Sculpture Park. Located in Ashford Hollow, off route 219, this unique local treasure offers a free art viewing experience as well as a great walk. Winter walkers might  need snowshoes. (

Do-it-yourself walking tour. Rather than trail around with a guide and a group of gawkers, create your own tour of Buffalo’s historic architecture. In good weather, the downtown/Canalside/Riverfest circuit is a great choice. At other times, the neighborhoods of the Delaware and Museum District offer an invigorating and scenic stroll. 



 Donna Evans-Deyermond is a freelance writer and public relations consultant. Elizabeth Licata is editor of Buffalo Spree.

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