By Kali Hawlk
There’s no better way to save money on healthcare costs than to take action and prevent ailments and illnesses. Sure, some factors might be outside our control. But the good news is that we do have a strong say in the fate of our health.
It starts by taking care of yourself today, and making smart decisions around your health into a habit. And no, it doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg.
While you could spring for a fancy gym membership that costs over $100 per month and engage in active – and expensive – sporting endeavors, or rack up an enormous grocery bill at your local organic food market, you certainly don’t need to. It’s possible to make a free or low-cost investment into one of your most important assets: your health.
Here’s how to get in shape and fit on the cheap:
Engage in Healthy Hobbies
The first place you should start if you’re interested in improving your fitness without busting your budget? Finding frugal and healthy hobbies.
You don’t need to go to a gym to get a good workout and take care of your physical health. It doesn’t cost you anything to step outside your door and go for a 30 minute walk. Yet the benefits of a walking program are incredible.
According to the American Heart Association, walking for 30 minutes per day along with some moderate physical activity can:
- “Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
- Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
- Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
- Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
- Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer
- Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes”
Walking is something nearly everyone can do, at any age or place. And half an hour of walking takes care of you in ways beyond physical health – it can improve your mental health, too.
Studies have shown walking improves your mood, attitude, and emotions. It can also help people deal with depression and anxiety, and it boosts self-esteem.
Just not interested in walking around? Remember, this is just an example of how a healthy hobby can benefit you without costing you money. There are plenty of other options to explore, too.
Look for other hobbies like this that combine two important features: they don’t cost anything (or much) to engage in and they get you moving. Need some ideas? Try:
- Hiking, if walking is too tame for you
- Photography, especially if your subjects are out in nature – use your own legpower to reach them! (Note that this may not be an inexpensive hobby to get into if you buy all your equipment brand new; look for used equipment or see if you can borrow what you need.)
- Yoga or meditation
- Volunteering to help others
Even cooking can turn into a healthy hobby, if you teach yourself to make your own nutritious meals and develop a better relationship with the food you eat.
Get creative and look for activities that bring you happiness and incorporate movement and action, without requiring you to spend large amounts of money.
Get Your Fitness on for Free
Just like healthy hobbies can get you active and moving outside of a gym, your normal workout routine can do the same. You have two main options for getting fit and healthy via cheap or free workouts:
- Buy your own equipment (you only need free weights; you can even make some of your own weights)
- Choose an equipment-free workout routine
Let’s look at buying your own equipment first. Throw out the notion that you need fancy machines to make a difference in your fitness and physique.
In fact, you can argue the case that free weights provide a better, more efficient workout over stationary machines.
Machines prohibit your body from moving naturally; they isolate muscle groups (whereas free weights allow you to engage a variety of muscle groups); and they can often provide too much support, which means you’re burning fewer calories and not working out in the most effective way.
When you purchase your own free weights, you can make a one-time investment in the equipment you want and need for your situation and your physical health goals. Setting up your own workout area at home also makes heading in to “the gym” more convenient and eliminates your excuses for avoiding some strength exercises.
Depending on your needs and goals, you may be able to make your own weights and other gym equipment. This won’t be a realistic solution for everyone. But it is a cheap option to try!
You can also forego equipment altogether. Bodyweight exercises use the resistence your own mass creates to provide you with a solid workout that is excellent for building strength and lean muscle mass.
Think exercises like planks, squats, lunges, and pushups – these are some of the most effective moves you can do, and you can do them anywhere, anytime, without paying a gym for the pleasure.
These are some of my favorite resources for working out on your own – and on the cheap:
- Fitness Blender
- 50 Bodyweight Exercises You Can Do Anywhere from Greatist
- Googling “bodyweight exercise routines,” or searching through Pinterest to find no-equipment workouts (there’s lots of great stuff out there for you!)
Eating Healthy on the Cheap
There’s another component to maintaining health and fitness for free or cheap that we haven’t discussed yet. That’s how you can take care of your body by eating healthy – without creating a massive grocery bill for yourself every week.
Believe it or not, you can eat healthy while avoiding shelling out big bucks for all-organic, all-expensive foods. These are some of the rules I came up with for my own household to keep good, healthy good on the table – and money in our pockets:
Eat real food. That means sticking to whole foods, and learning how to combine these whole foods into easy, tasty dishes. Yes, you will need to learn some basic cooking skills to make this work, but with practice you can do it! I believe in you.
Know when it matters to buy organic. It’s true: organic isn’t always better or more advantageous. Use the EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ to learn what foods you should always buy organic due to the amont of pesticide they retain – and what foods you can buy conventionally to save money.
Get creative! Again, this one goes back to learning to cook. But it’s a valuable piece of advice. If you can create a variety of dishes from cheap, staple ingredients, you’ll be able to eat healthy and for little expense. Our favorite staples include rice, beans, homemade breads (tortillas, naan, wheat loaves, anything made with corn meal), and a whole lot of whatever vegetables are in season at the time.
Get help from coupons. No, you don’t need to go to Extreme Couponer lengths. But you can make use of the ones you can easily and readily access. Target and Kroger are our go-to stores for household goods and groceries, and each of these always has coupons you can grab and print from their websites. Easy-peasy, and money saved.
You can get fit and healthy on the cheap if you’re motivated to do so and know the effort you put in is an investment that will benefit you over a lifetime.
Remember, two of the most valuable resources available to anyone are time and health. We often say you can’t earn more time, like you can money. But that might not be entirely true. Through our good health, we can perhaps put a little more time into our lives, and enjoy our experience here just a little longer.
What do you do to get and stay healthy and fit on the cheap?