Do you feel like you need to take Pilates classes, turmeric lattes and fancy supplements to lead a healthy lifestyle?
Of course, all those things can help you feel good. But living with chronic illness is often costly enough with these extra expenses. There are medical bills to pay, you may need aids and tools to modify your living and work spaces, and all this while you probably have a reduced income because you’re too sick to work a full-time job.
The good news is: healthy living does not have to cost a fortune.
Don’t get me wrong: it makes a huge difference to your health and happiness if you live in a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood with good air quality, sidewalks and plenty of greenery around. And being able to pay for a supportive mattress for sleep, healthy staple foods and access to the Internet will definitely play a role in your wellbeing.
But in this article, we’ll focus on the things within your control: your thoughts and feelings, your habits and home. Not every tip will be affordable for everyone’s budget or doable for everybody’s health situation, but hopefully these accessible tips will give you enough inspiration to tailor them to your own needs.
Have a look at 38 budget-friendly ideas for healthy living.
1. Drink more water. Around 60% of your body is made up of water, so you need to stay hydrated to function well. But not only does soda cost you more money than (good-quality) tap water, it’s also the biggest source of sugar in the standard Western diet. So swap at least one of your sugary drinks for (flavored) water or a big pot of tea.
2. Expose yourself to natural daylight early in the morning. When your eyes catch that morning light, it triggers a cascade of hormonal reactions in your body that fine-tune your internal body clock. As a result, you’ll feel more alert during the day and get a better quality of sleep at night. So open the curtains, eat breakfast by the window or head outside for an invigorating Morning Mile!
3. Walking is one of the cheapest, most accessible ways to move your body. All you need is comfortable shoes and weather-appropriated clothing. Take a look at how you can start walk training when you’re chronically ill or try fun ways to get more daily steps in.
4. Do breath work. So many of us have developed a habit of shallow chest breathing, which causes fatigue and tension in your body, and can even turn into panic attacks, respiratory and heart problems. Deep belly breathing on the other hand, will relax your body and mind. Calmly breathing in and out through your nose also helps you reduce stress and pain, wherever and whenever you need to. Once you’ve mastered the practice of deep belly breathing, you could also experiment with alternate nostril breathing, box breathing or the 4-7-8 breathing technique for specific purposes.
5. Give yourself a bedtime. Sounds childish, I know. But we’ve all had that inner dialogue of “just one more episode, just one final scroll through Instagram” – only to stay up too late and wake up groggy and tired the next day. Even more important, setting a bedtime also allows you to create a relaxing nighttime routine and start winding down one hour before bed to improve your sleep.
6. Take a cold shower. Ok, that may not sound appealing, but studies show that regular exposure to cold can reduce inflammation, speed up your metabolism as well as recovery after exercise, and may even boost your immunity. You don’t have to take an ice bath to reap these benefits, simply alternating warm and cold water or ending your usual shower with 30 to 60 seconds of cold water will do the trick. Warning: Consult your doctor first if you suffer from chronic health problems. Cold water therapy may *not* be suitable for people with heart disease and pregnant women.
7. Stock up on frozen produce. Did you know that frozen fruits and vegetables contain almost as many nutrients as fresh produce, often at a smaller price? And we all know that fruit and veg are an amazing source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, so frozen produce makes a great, budget-friendly choice.
8. Make time to relax your body every day. Physical, mental and emotional stress build up over time, and that can eventually lead to a wide range of serious health problems. So let go of tension in your body by taking a warm bath, doing some gentle stretches after work or practicing progressive muscle relaxation before bed.
9. Wash your hands properly. You might be thinking “duh”, but according to the World Health Organization, good hand hygiene could save up to one million (!) lives per year. Reduce your risk of diarrhea, infectious diseases and food-borne illness by thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds – that’s longer than you think – after you’ve visited the bath room, when you cough or sneeze, and before and after handling food.
10. No money for the gym or dumbbells? Do body-weight exercises to strengthen your muscles and bones. You can get a full-body workout at home or in the park by doing push-ups, squats, lunges or burpees.
11. Give up smoking and consume less alcohol. Even getting (paid) help to break these bad habits will pay out in the long run. Your wallet and your lungs, liver and brain will thank you for it.
12. Get some sunshine. Yes, excessive sun bathing will cause burns and skin cancer. But your skin needs to be exposed to sunlight to produce vitamin D, the fat-soluble vitamin that supports strong bones, immunity and mental health. So it’s key to learn how you can safely get some sunshine without sun damage.
13. Cuddle and kiss your loved ones – with consent of course. Research shows that giving and receiving hugs lowers your cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate, and strengthens your immunity.
14. Mind your posture. Not only does slouching hurt your neck, back and circulation, how you carry yourself also impacts your energy levels, mood and ability to focus.
15. Make a list of budget-friendly meals that fit your food pattern. No matter if you follow a vegetarian, gluten-free or keto diet, having go-to dinners or a solid meal plan will save you precious time, energy and money. Check out these cheap but cheerful meals from Jamie Oliver or the healthy meal prep ideas from Budget Bytes to get you started.
16. Try self-massage. It’s no substitute for massage therapy from a qualified practitioner, but learning how to soothe sore muscles with your own hands can he helpful to manage chronic health problems. With a little practice and budget-friendly tools like a tennis ball, you can give yourself a relaxing foot rub or ease back pain by applying gentle pressure with two tennis balls.
17. Go barefoot. Walking barefoot inside the house or on natural surfaces can restore your natural gait, strengthen your feet and improve your balance. What’s more, some studies suggest that planting your feet in the soil or grass – also known as grounding – could support your overall health. Of course, be careful not to step on sharp objects on the ground.
18. Practice gratitude. Research shows time and time again that naming 3 things that went well that day has a huge impact on your overall happiness. So make a habit of noticing what you’re thankful for each day, no matter how big or small. Yes, even when you don’t feel like it.
19. Do you tend to take things too personally, expect the worst-case scenario or think in terms of “why does that always happen to me? “? We all make these common cognitive errors, but when your inner critic is hurting your mental health, it’s time to change your negative thinking patterns. Read more how you can challenge recurring negative thoughts and replace them with more constructive statements.
20. Bring more laughter into your life. That’s easier said than done when you’re dealing with financial problems and/or chronic illness, but laughing releases feel-good chemicals that help take your mind off physical pain and worries. Why not use the power of humor to support your wellbeing? All you need are funny memes, stand-up comedy, hilarious games and a playful state of mind.
21. Take mindful micro-breaks to recharge. You may not be able to visit a luxurious retreat whenever you need some R&R, but you can use the small pockets of free time into your day to really relax your body and mind. Don’t fill up every spare minute with ‘productive activities’ or scrolling your phone, but try mindful micro-breaks like a walking meditation to the bus stop, a quick body scan while you’re waiting in line or singing a power song in the shower instead.
22. Unplug for an evening, day or weekend. Program your phone to go on airplane mode starting 1 hour before bedtime until 1 hour after you wake up, put your tablet in a drawer or consider taking a social media sabbatical.
23. Find healthy ways to deal with stress and negative emotions. Daily hassles, stressful life events and heartache are an unfortunate but natural part of life, so having good coping skills to deal with inevitable hardship are key for your health and happiness. Don’t drown your sorrows with wine or ice-cream, but relax your body and quiet your racing mind with exercising, creative expression, talking to your best friend or meditation exercises. Speaking of which…
24. Meditate. Calming your mind by being present in the moment has so many benefits for your body and mind. Practicing meditation on a regular basis reduces stress, improves your sleep, helps to control pain and supports good mental health – all for free! Plus, once you got the hang of it, you can tap into the power of mediation anywhere anytime. You don’t need fancy apps – although guided mediations surely can help – simply sitting in quietude for a few minutes, focusing on your breath without paying much attention to your wandering mind, is all you need to get started.
25. Let go of limiting beliefs. Sometimes, the biggest thing that’s holding us back from living the life we want is our own mindset. How often do thoughts like “I’m not smart/strong/talented enough” or “I’ve always felt this way/ done things this way, and I can’t change” cross your mind? I’m not saying you should embrace toxic positivity messages like “you can do anything you set your mind to”, but isn’t it a shame to always play it small and deny the world of your truest self, with all your potential, gifts and quirks included? Start tracking down which limiting beliefs you hold and slowly replace them with real, but more helpful and optimistic ones.
26. Cultivate positivity. You can’t stop bad things and painful feelings from happening, but you can balance them with a healthy dose of genuine positivity. Cultivate joy, hope and inspiration by savoring simple pleasures like hugging your loved ones and dancing to your favorite upbeat song; by looking for the humor in everyday situations, by engaging your five senses or by bringing playfulness back in your life. These positive emotions cannot cure your illness or take away your problems, but they will help you build the resilience you need to bounce back from tough times.
27. Learn to set boundaries and communicate them kindly to the people in your life. We only have a limited amount of hours and energy in a day, so it’s ok to set priorities and say ‘no’ to requests. Preventing stress and overwhelm is an important element of healthy living.
28. Journal. Classic journaling is a budget-friendly tool for self-expression, reflection and personal development. By trusting your thoughts to paper, you can reduce emotional stress and define your health goals. Take a look at these 40 thought-provoking journal prompts to get you started.
29. Set your space up for healthy living. Make it easier to stick to healthy habits by creating a supportive environment. Keep less-healthy foods on the top shelves and put your fruit bowl on the kitchen counter, or roll out your yoga mat the night before so you can easily start the day with suns salutations.
30. Open the windows to let fresh air in. Shockingly, indoor air pollution is up to 3,5 times worse than outdoor air pollution – and we spend approximately 90% of our days inside our homes, offices and shops. Thankfully, you can improve your indoor air quality in budget-friendly ways, by opening the windows on opposite sides of the house every day, keeping air grates open day and night, and cleaning regularly.
31. Spend more time in nature. Even if you live in an urban jungle or are chronically ill, there are ways to squeeze more outdoor time into your days. You can adorn your home with flowers and fresh herbs, potter around your (balcony) garden or go for a short stroll (with aids and stops if necessary). On the weekends, consider swapping your standard dinner and a movie for a picnic in the park, a walk on the beach or forest bathing for a free immunity boost.
32. Take off your shoes indoors. A simple habit that prevents all kinds of dirt, germs and toxins from entering your home. Check out more easy ways to create a healthier home here.
33. Consider using chemical-free cleaning products. Harsh cleaners can irritate your eyes, skin and respiratory system, whereas baking soda and vinegar get rid of dirt in a healthier way. Experiment with these 27 non-toxic cleaning recipes to clean every surface.
34. Change your screen savers to a natural scene for mental calm, to a photo that puts a smile on your face or an inspiring quote that motivates you to keep going. In that spirit, you could even update your passwords to an affirmation to help you get into a positive mindset.
35. Cover your bedtime basics to get a good night’s sleep. Try to keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet. Also remove electronics from your bedroom to limit distractions and to stop the blue light coming from your screens from keeping you up all night. Finally, reduce clutter so you can create a calming space optimized for sleep and intimacy.
36. Set reminders on your phone to stick to your healthy habits. Of course, technology can be helpful too. Get alerted when it’s time to stretch your legs, drink a glass of water or do a quick body scan when you’re so busy you’re not paying attention to your bodily signals.
37. Create your own tech-rules to prevent overwhelm and other negative consequences. No-screen Sundays, a social media sabbath, no phones at the dinner table, no electronic devices in the bedroom… whatever works for you.
38. Connect with your loved ones. We all long to belong, to feel seen and heard, to have someone to share our deepest feelings with. It’s not surprising that having social support is one of the key determinants of healthy living. But when you’re struggling with chronic illness, it can be hard to stay in touch with family and friends, or to feel understood when you do get to hang out together. It’s definitely not always easy, but you can still keep strong friendships when you’re chronically ill, make new friends and beat emotional loneliness despite your problems.
There’s no denying that having to worry about how to pay for your medical bills, gluten-free diet and mobility aids surely does not improve your health. But you do not necessarily need expensive fitness trackers or the latest superfoods for healthy living.
Hopefully the budget-friendly tips above have reminded you there are plenty of accessible ways you can still support your health and happiness.
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What are your best budget-friendly tips for healthy living?