Second, I thought of the YMCA. I get to lift weights, stretch, take classes, swim, and get access to cable stations we don't have at home (yes, I am a closet fan of The Disney Channel) -- at any Y in New York. All this for $70 a month since I get a discount through The Park Slope Food Coop. It's worth finding out if the Y grants you a discount via any groups you belong to, including your place of employment.
One reason I prefer the Y over a regular gym is because it is a place that inspires me. All around, I see young people -- babies all the way to young adults -- engaged in exercise and forming good relationships with the people (parents and Y employees) who lead those activities. It's also about young people leading each other. Often, I'll see a group of teenage guys congregating in a corner of the weight-lifting area. One of them will show the rest of the group a specific exercise or technique. When I think of all the teens who are left on their own after school and on weekends, I realize that the Y provides an invaluable setting for them to socialize and stay in good shape.
The Y has been a part of my life from the beginning. When I was very young, my dad would take me there to swim. In college, I worked at their summer camp. After grad school, I taught at one of their parent cooperative schools. For the past two year, I've been working out at their Brooklyn and Manhattan branches. My favorite branches so far are the Dodge Y on Atlantic Avenue and the Chinatown Y, which is actually sits on the border of SoHo and the Lower East Side.
While we're on the topic of Ys, I gotta give props to the YMHA, the H standing for Hebrew. When I lived in Manhattan, I swam and used the library at the 92nd Street Y, and also eavesdropped on the wise musings of elderly Jewish folks in the cafe. The 92nd Street Y offers some of the best cultural programs in the city, including performances, classes, and lectures.
If you're tired of (A) your fancy, overpriced gym that's as big as a broom closet or (B) tricking yourself into thinking that walking to the corner store is adequate exercise, I strongly recommend that you join a Y - Christian or Hebrew.
For a history of the YMCA, click here.
For a history of the YMHA, click here.