Can you get in shape without breaking the bank? The bigger question is whether you can afford to neglect your health. The economic impact of chronic diseases—many of which are caused or worsened by lifestyle choices—cause “significant health and economic costs in the United States,” per the CDC.
The average gym membership in the U.S. is almost $38 a month, according to research by RunRepeat. That doesn’t include specialized classes or training with a personal fitness coach, nor does it cover a customized meal plan from a professional dietician. And forget about setting up a home gym or purchasing a WiFi-enabled exercise bike, which can set you back thousands of dollars and incur additional membership fees.
But what if it didn’t cost a dime to get fit? These tips for free—or nearly free—ways to exercise more, eat healthier, and manage stress can help make positive changes in your life. So what are you waiting for?
Note: As ever, please talk to your doctor before embarking on any kind of exercise or diet program. The information in this post is intended as general advice and not to address any specific disease or condition.
Cut Out Your Vices
This should go without saying, but… if you smoke or drink more than the recommended moderate amount per week, consider quitting. Not only will you protect your health, but you’ll also save a lot of money. The average smoker can save $2,292 dollars a year! What would you do with an extra two grand?
The cheapest way to get a workout at home is by using bodyweight movements. You don’t need to spend money on fancy machines or even a set of dumbbells or a kettlebell. All you need is gravity. Squats, lunges, sit-ups, pushups, and planks are all essential movements that work multiple muscle groups at once. Best of all, you can do them just about anywhere. Try doing a few squats during commercial breaks while you watch TV or incorporate lunges while you fold your laundry.
Plan Your Meals
It’s a common piece of advice that you can’t outrun a bad diet. Nutrition and exercise are two sides of the same coin, so make sure that you are paying attention to the calories you consume as well as those that you burn. Planning your meals in advance will help you make healthier choices, avoid food waste, and lessen the temptation to dine out. Prep meals in bigger batches and freeze a few so that you always have something nutritious to eat in the house.
Like bodyweight exercises, walking is not only a free form of exercise but also an incredibly effective one. You should have good, supportive shoes if you plan to do a lot of walking, but that’s a small investment compared to the monthly cost of a gym membership. If walking in your neighborhood isn’t feasible, then head to a nearby park or public trail. Mall walking on rainy days might not be your best bet, however, as the temptation to shop—and grab a snack at the food court—could undo your hard work to get fit on a budget.
If you decide to pick up some workout gear, such as an exercise ball, free weights, or a yoga mat, check out secondhand options before you pay full price. Yard sales and Craigslist can both be excellent sources of gently used exercise equipment for a fraction of the cost of buying new. There’s one piece of equipment you should never buy used, however: bike helmets. Always invest in a brand-new helmet, as you can’t guarantee that a used one will provide adequate protection.
Read More: 14 Easy Ways to Save When Money is Tight
Drink Water and Tea
We all know that it’s important to stay hydrated, but not all forms of hydration are created equal. Ditch the soda along with the sports drinks and stick with water or caffeine-free tea. Add a slice of fruit to your water if it’s too boring or grab a case of store-brand seltzer to satisfy your craving for bubbles. You don’t even need to buy a fancy water bottle; a mason jar or a quart deli container will help you track how much water you’re drinking.
YouTube Exercise Videos
Why pay for an exercise class when you can get endless workouts for free online? There are videos on YouTube for every type of exercise imaginable, including workouts that have been adapted for different body types and levels of mobility. You’re almost certain to find one that grabs your attention. And if you end up not liking it, you can always browse for something else.
Eat Seasonal Whenever Possible
Seasonal produce is better for the planet and your wallet. When you buy seasonal, local fruits and vegetables, you’re getting the freshest possible produce. It doesn’t need to be shipped across the country—or around the world—reducing both its carbon footprint and its price. If you’re not sure when different types of produce are in season, check out this guide.
Workplace Wellness Programs
Many workplaces offer wellness programs, whether it’s through company-provided health insurance or local programs and initiatives. Check with your HR rep to find out if there are wellness benefits bundled with your insurance. If your office doesn’t currently offer any kind of wellness program, you might consider going to your manager with a few ideas. Wellness initiatives are good for both employees and employers in the long run.
Nutrition experts at Johns Hopkins recommend saving the money you spend on supplements and putting it toward “nutrient-packed foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products” instead. Multiple studies have shown that, at best, supplements offer no benefit for your health. The only exception is folic acid for people who are pregnant. For everyone else, supplements seem to be a waste of money.
Buy in Bulk
When you’re buying those healthy fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, purchase as much as possible in bulk. As long as you have a reliable way to safely store the food, you can save money by stocking up during sales or at discount club stores such as Costco. A chest freezer is a good investment if you want to store a lot of food, but the freezer in your current fridge, along with some air-tight containers for the pantry, should keep your food fresh for a long time.
Get Creative with Weights
If you find that bodyweight exercises just aren’t challenging enough for you anymore, then consider using objects that are already at your home instead of purchasing free weights. Classic examples of DIY weights include canned goods and gallon jugs filled with water. A bag or jug of cat litter will provide a heavier challenge. You can find more ideas at Shape.
Build More Movement into Your Day
When life presents you with the option to choose convenience or a challenge, which one do you pick? Whenever possible, push yourself to park farther away from your destination and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Stand instead of sit, if that’s an option for you, and turn phone calls into an opportunity to exercise. You can even try sitting on an exercise ball or putting a mini-elliptical under your desk to turn your workday into a workout.
Become a Part-Time Vegetarian
In cultures that have the highest overall health scores, one thing stands out: They eat less meat and more produce. Regardless of whether you’re looking at a traditional Japanese diet or the Mediterranean diet, an emphasis on fresh vegetables, healthy fats, and plant-based protein sources is a good way to improve your health and save money. Some experts recommend cutting back on your overall meat consumption, while others find that it’s easier to adapt to eating vegetarian one or two days a week. If you’ve been brought up to believe that a “real meal” features meat as the main event, then try challenging yourself to prepare a vegetarian entrée this week.
Head to Your Local Library
Libraries are incredible—and free—resources for just about anything you want to learn. Instead of buying cookbooks, check out your local library’s collection. They may also have exercise videos, books on health and wellness, and even sponsor group classes at some branches. Many libraries also offer resources that you can access online using your phone or computer, so you may be able to download eBooks or stream videos to enhance your fitness journey without paying a single penny.
Although meditation won’t directly help you shed pounds or build muscle, it can still be an important part of your fitness routine. That’s because meditation can help reduce stress levels. It can also make you more mindful of your thoughts and impulses. The same mental resilience that you build during meditation can help you resist cravings and avoid mindless eating.