First off, congratulations on the stopping smoking. This is probably the single best thing you can do to improve your health. I hope you are successful, and I wish you the best in this endeavor.
Next, here’s the SD (at least from my perspective here in San Diego) on gyms. There are basically two types of gyms: small, “mom and pop” type gyms and big chains.
The small, “mom and pop” type gyms may serve a niche more by location, or will cater to a more specific customer (body builders, for example). They will have less equipment, and may or may not have classes. They will likely be cheaper, but not necessarily (if they’re the only gym around in a given area).
The big chain gyms will be much more glitzy, have lots of variety of equipment, will have classes, and generally better facilities (shower and locker rooms).
But here’s the key, certainly the big chains and perhaps to a certain degree the mom and pop types, are based on a business model of customers paying for, but not utilizing their product. That is, their entire source of revenue is based on people paying for their membership, but not necessarily coming in. I would imagine the statistics on how many people belong to gyms (pay, or have paid) vs. how many actually go to their gym are staggering. So much so that if all the people that paid ever did go, the gym could not handle the capacity.
So what does this mean to you ? A couple things (especially in dealing with a big chain gym): 1) if you sign up for a longer term (but need to pay upfront) you will get a better deal 2) haggle !. If you keep in mind that their whole business model is based on “money up front”, then you can use that to your advantage.
The typical chain gym will have a “joining fee” (usually about $50 to $150), and a monthly fee (something in the $15 to $30 per month range). You can get the joining fee waived pretty easily by A) having your company contact the gym and arrange for a “company” deal (costs the company likely nothing, and is just an excuse for the gym to offer a better deal) B) simply refuse to pay the joining fee (salesman will then need to talk to his supervisor - not unlike the car buying game). Note: try this toward the end of a month - quotas need to be filled, so they are more desperate or C) tell them you’ll sign up for 3 years (instead of 1) if they’ll waive the joining fee.
Okay, enough about gyms and how to join. Considering your situation, here is what I’d recommend. The first thing to consider is that you need to find something that you “enjoy” doing. And by “enjoy” I don’t mean “euphoric bliss” while you’re doing it, because let’s face it, starting out on anything will not be “enjoyable” in the same way as eating ice cream. “Rewading” yes, but not enjoyable. So it needs to be something that is not so distasteful that you will learn to loathe it, and it will become a real chore to motivate yourself to continue. If you are disciplined enough, and the rewards (even in just feeling better, and not necessarily looking better) are enough, you may come to “enjoy” something that started out as really tedious.
But for a plan of attack, here is what I would consider:
Walk. It will likely be all you are capable of after this surgery anyway. So what will likely start out as “rehab”, you can turn into a regular exercise. It sounds like you haven’t worked out regularly before, so starting out with something non-stressful like walking sounds like a good way to go. Begin slow, maybe 20 minutes a day. And then build from there. You may want to shift to big walks every other day. And you may also want to change from neighborhood streets to hiking trails for different terrain. But I think getting some cardio development before jumping into something more strenuous is important.
Something more strenuous. After a month or so of just walking, you will be ready to up the stakes a bit. You may need to explore different things as to which direction you want to go. Checking out a gym might be good, or maybe trying jogging or cycling if you find you prefer being outdoors. Again, remember that “what you enjoy” aspect.
If you are considering the gym route, it is kind of a tough call as to whether to go with a personal trainer off the bat. Keep in mind that the gym staff (should) are always be available to learn how to use a particular piece of equipment. So you don’t need a trainer to simply learn how to do the various exercises. The thing with a trainer is that if he’s good, he’ll push you to your limits. This is good in that you get a hell of a workout. But starting out, you may be so sore and exhausted, it may turn you off to the gym. I would recommend trying to work different pieces of equipment, maybe trying a class or two on your own for a while.
Focusing on your goals. So now, after a couple months of “getting into” exercising regularly, I would then move toward your specific goals. If losing weight is a priority, then here is where a personal trainer/nutritionist can be very helpful. Keep in mind that probably 95% of the people who join gyms are there to lose weight, so the gyms are geared toward these people (hoping they only come once or twice, and then stop coming ;-). It will cost you significantly more for a personal trainer. From what I’ve been hearing, around $50 to $75 per session seems about the norm. If you can get a recommendation for a trainer all the better. As I mentioned, a (good) trainer will push you pretty hard. He’ll have a better sense of what you’re capable of, and will try to eek that out of you - think drill sergeant, only not so demeaning. This is where I get the most advantage because I know I don’t push myself as hard as the trainer pushes me.
Some keys to exercise: regular is key. You can vary the days, but keeping to the same number of days per week is important. I find that 3 days a week works well for me. I found a huge difference between going twice a week and then 3 times a week. I only meet with my trainer every other week. They will likely want you to come more often, but I felt like I was continually recovering when I tried once every week.
There will come those days when you should go work out, but you will not feel like it (for whatever reason, and you will come up with every reason in the book !). Negotiate with yourself on what you’ll do, and do it. I found this trick to be very helpful on my non-motivated days. I would just say “okay, I’ll just ride the stationary bike for 20 minutes”. This would be enough to get me out of the house and over to the gym. 9 times out of 10, after my 20 minutes on the bike I’d feel energized enough and end up having a good (normal) workout. But there were also times when I didn’t feel like much else, but since I’d “fulfilled my obligation”, I would leave not feeling so guilty (and feel good about not having bailed completely). The key is, if you’re going X times a week, always go those X times even if they aren’t full on workouts. Don’t fall into the “I’ll make it up next time” trap.
That should be enough to get you started. I hope this helps. And I wish you luck.