That's right, I said it! The "R" word. And no matter how politicians try to spin it, the fact is, we're in one. Nationwide people are scrambling to stay employed, afloat and are tossing non-essentials off their fiscal boat. And it's not just a financial toll; there's the psychological impact of an economic downturn. Nothing like rising prices and a round of layoffs (which you mercifully survived) have you searching for solace in a pint of Chubby Hubby. But before stress kills you, it will make you fat.

And before you label exercise a luxury item and throw fitness under the bus, take a moment to objectively evaluate your budget. Sure we all need to cut expenses, but not by sacrificing your physical and emotional well being. Besides, a contraction in spending doesn't have to mean an expansion in your waistline. Staying active can be your coping strategy during stressful periods, and you don't need a fancy gym membership or expensive equipment to workout. There are plenty of ways to get your fitness on the cheap.

The Rundown:

To keep a healthy body and mind, you'll need to do a variety of exercises: Cardiovascular activities that get your heart rate up, weight-bearing workouts to keep bones strong, core/abdominal exercises for spinal support and good posture and finally a stretching regime to keep muscles flexible and injury free. If this sounds like an impossible time-suck, there are ways to make exercise easier by incorporating it into your lifestyle. And anyway, it's non-negotiable, since good health is essential to living a good life.

Walk

One of the simplest ways to get started is to walk. Somewhere, anywhere, but leave the car at home, get off the train and hit the pavement. Make it fun and invest in a pedometer for about $20. Then set a goal to walk a certain number of steps per day.

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Walking counts as cardio and is also a weight-bearing activity. And the price is right, FREE. Actually, walking will end up paying you by saving on gas and public transportation.

"It's like winning the 'Trifecta,'" says walking enthusiast Adrina Banks, a banking VP in credit risk operations. She uses walking to de-stress, stay fit and save a little cash. "Right now the financial industry is incredibly uncertain, and almost everyday there's another negative forecast, so twice a week I put away my Metro card and walk home with two co-workers over the Brooklyn Bridge. By the time I get to my doorstep the work pressures have evaporated and when I get on the scale I see the benefits of that three mile walk."

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If you don't live a walkable distance from your job, you can walk part of the way. One of Adrina's walking buddies lives in Long Island, and she walks with them over the bridge before hopping on her train.

Bike

If walking is too slow, then ride… your bike. It's another low-cost cardio option. Don't worry if the last bike you rode had a banana seat and handlebar streamers, it will come back to you. Bike your weekend errands or wrangle friends and family together for an outing.

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Join a gym for less

If you want more structure, join a gym, but make sure you'll use it. The last thing you need during a recession is an additional expense, particularly one with diminishing returns if you find yourself blowing off your workouts. With a gym you'll have access to cardiovascular equipment, a weight room and specialty classes, from stretch and strength to Pilates and Yoga.

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Before you join, shop around and ask for a deal. Gyms are hurting too so they're more willing to eliminate initiation fees and reduce rates. And check out low cost alternatives like community centers, YMCAs and YWCAs. The facilities are basic, but typically well run and are very family friendly.

DIY Fitness at Home

If you have the discipline and a little space you can exercise at home, at your convenience and without an audience. You can DIY with just a few pieces of equipment but beware the workout infomercial. Economic anxiety might have you up a night tuning in to paid fitness programming, so do yourself a favor and hide your credit cards and turn off the TV.

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In your sleep-deprived state you might think that life won't be complete without the ab/roller, Gazelle, ministepper, etc…It will. And if you absolutely must have that miracle gadget which will eventually morph into a clothes rack, buy it for a couple of bucks at a yard sale.

Instead, create a home gym. Cruise the discount and neighborhood athletic stores, and you can score what you need for about $100.

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Top Five for DIY

Mat—Good for stretching and floor work. Make sure it's slightly padded to give you some cushion between your back and the floor.

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Hand weights—A set of light and medium weights help tone arms and build upper body strength.

Physio ball—The inflatable balls are an incredibly versatile fitness tool and great for balance, core strength and targeting arms and abs, if you sit on the ball while doing weight work. Balls come in different sizes, so check the box to make sure you get the right one for your height.

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Jump rope—Jumping is a cardio blast. Opt for the lightweight vinyl speed rope, and be patient. If you've never done it before, jumping rope is challenging. Try to build up in 30-second intervals.

Exercise bands or tubing—These portable elastics vary in resistance and can be used for upper and lower body exercises and as a tool for stretching.

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Add to that some DVDs that you can buy online and swap with friends, or check them out from the library. Or tune into an exercise program on FitTV and Exercise TV, and follow a workout.

If you're a never-ever exerciser, overweight or recovering from an injury, you can still use movement to manage stress with a gentler practice like Tai Chi. You've probably seen people outdoors doing what looks like a martial arts dance in slow motion. That's kinda right. It's an ancient art where you perform a series of movements in a slow, graceful manner with each posture flowing into the next. It's noncompetitive, self-paced and emphasizes technique over strength. Tai Chi was intended to reduce the stress and re-balance you physically and mentally. So basically anyone can do it, and in today's tumultuous times, everyone can benefit from it.

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Alicia Villarosa has enjoyed a long career in health and fitness teaching classes and personal training for 25 years. She's recently launched a blog called Bargain Biatch on living lux for less.