Tips to Live Healthy on a Low Budget

Let’s focus on two components of healthy living: Healthy Eating and Exercise. I remember when I began researching my first book Indulge in Healthy Living:  Look and Feel Greet for Life, in 2000, ‘healthy living’ were foreign words, talk less of asking people to indulge.  Indulge in what? I was asked often. People just didn’t take me serious.  When I advise my healthy lifestyle workshop participants to eat a balanced diet, they often retorted with ‘How can I when I don’t even have enough to eat in the first place’. When I mention exercise, wow, that does it.  Hysterical laughter or sometimes a long drawn hiss.  It was difficult to get it.  ‘Going to work is enough exercise for me’ is a familiar response, ‘Or I just don’t have the money to fund a luxury such as exercise’.  So basically, I identified two barriers: 1. Healthy lifestyle too expensive 2. No money to start an exercise program.  It all boils down to ‘money’ either way.

Slowly but steadily, the gospel of healthy living has begun to sink in.  It doesn’t matter whether you are poor or rich; it is the same afflictions and the same death.  There is no class difference. Well, on second thought, the difference may be in the treatment. The rich have better options than the poor.  Then again it is only a thin line.  So for me, the best solution is to prevent illnesses and diseases from happening in the first place.  Because once afflicted, the pendulum can swing either way.   

The next questions are: How do you ensure healthy eating is possible with the limited cash in your pocket?  How do you exercise on a low budget?

Exercising Without Breaking Your Pocket

If your excuse for shunning exercise is money issue, the good news is that you don’t need a gym, for instance, to embark on a health and energy boosting exercise.  Though gyms offer multi choices of equipment and instructors to take you through, this shouldn’t be a constraint. There are low cost substitutes to help improve your fitness level.
  • Begin with low cost equipment
If you are just getting started and looking for real fitness bargains, you can buy low cost exercise products like dumbbells, jump-ropes, or resistance bands.  Exercise videos are also good if you are the type that can be consistent and disciplined to work out on your own in your sitting room.
  • Invent your own low cost equipment
If you don’t have extra money to spare at all, invent your own equipment using simply home items.
  1. I find 75cl filled water plastic bottles useful for working arms and upper body.  These replace dumbbells for me.  I filled two 75cl bottles with water, and follow exercise instructions for arms and upper body toning.  If you want heavier bottles, replace with sand.
  2. I find the canned foods difficult to hold in my hands as weights.  But this is another option to try.  For instance you can take a pair of socks and put an 8-ounce can in each, and use as hand or ankle weight.  Bags of 1kg rice, potatoes or whatever you have in your store can be used for chest presses, shoulder and calf raises, squats, and lunges.
  3.  I find football a good substitute for Russian ball, though limited in varieties of exercises you can do. You can use a football for knee and leg raises, and arm twists.
  • Give your need a second thought
If you want to do step training, you can use your stairs, or a low sturdy stool, and some aerobics music will give you the desired aerobic sweat at no cost.  You can also check out your community fitness centers and discover they offered use of their space and equipment  at no cost at all, or often much lower than private gyms.
  • Don't overlook everyday opportunities
You do not necessarily need special equipment for a cardiovascular workout. With a little foresight, activities you take for granted can become part of your exercise routine.
  1. Get up and go. Walking is a free activity you can do almost anytime. If it is raining, walk up and down your office block. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Sneak in extra steps whenever you can by parking farther away from stores or work. 
  2. Active Play. If you have children, you have eager exercise partners. Do not just watch them play. Join them for a game of football or hide and seek. Or walk them to the park rather than driving.
  3. Give the gardener an occasional break. Sweep the compound. Yuck? And wait for this; do not hire anyone to trim the plants. Ouch! Do it yourself.  You will get some exercise and save the cost of having someone else do these chores.

Making Smart Healthy Food Choices

When it comes to eating, cooking from scratch can save you money. Why? You will shop for ingredients mindful of your limited cash.  What this means is that you probably don’t need those prepackaged recipe ingredients like tomato paste, stock cubes, frozen vegetables, meat, fish and so on.  All you require is a visit to a local open market or farmers market and pick fresh peppers, tomatoes, vegetables, and protein in quantity and price you can afford.  Take home and throw them together.  At the end what do you have? Fresh home cooking without additives prevalent in commercial food stuffs.  

One other thing is that let’s say, for instance, you are trying to lose or maintain weight, you objective is to eat less, and shun fat loaded foods. That on its own will save you money. Cookies, cakes and pastries we often buy as treats, are filled with fat and sodium that we should eat less of.  If money is a major, buy fruits and vegetables in season because they are reasonably priced then. Furthermore, if you are concerned about eating right, fruits and vegetables are essential because they contain Vitamins A, C and antioxidants we need.  

It is advisable to get into the habit of eating mostly vegetable or grain-based dishes with small amounts of meat, shrimps or fish added for flavour, or cheaper cuts of animal protein, which is just as good- if not better- depending on how you use them.  I believe in looking for food substitutes that will give me the same benefits.  For instance, if I’m low on cash, I opt for cheaper boiled eggs, instead of meat, or shred mackerel fish into a bowl of vegetable salad to replace a more expensive chicken breast.  Or derive my protein from stewed beans mixed with corn or rice. No animal protein required.  The tomato and pepper combination with onions does the palate a lot of good.  It is also filling without the need for extra snacks. 

There are four workable ways to eat healthy without denting a big hole in your pocket.

·         Limit red meat: Eat smaller portions of red meat, about 50g per day, while increasing your vegetables and cereal grain. Or you may opt to replace some red meat meals with poultry or seafood, or add a vegetarian meal each week.
·         Limit processed food: Some food processing makes healthy food convenient. But most processing removes valuable nutrients and adds sodium, sugar or trans-fat. Instead of prepackaged foods with a long list of processed ingredients, take the time to prepare the whole-food version yourself. For snacks, snack on single ingredient foods like fruit or nuts, rather than chips, bars or ice cream.
·         Limit packaged drinks: Research estimates that about half of increased calorie consumption in the past 20 years has come from sweetened drinks. Cutting back has been shown to reduce calorie consumption.  My take on this? Stick to water.  It is the cheapest and healthiest. Or if you have extra change and time make your own lemonade with ginger.  Cucumber juice served cold from the fridge is delicious and a glass is less than 50 calories with fantastic health benefits.
·         Reduce your portion: As Africans we eat an average of 500 calories more each day than we did in the 1970s. Not surprising with the escalation of fast food eateries at every nook and cranny of cities and towns.  Increased fat, sodium, sugar and processed snacks are there for the grabs. With these are newer illnesses and diseases.
·          Reduce the amount of food wasted: If you buy and prepare only what you will eat, you will also waste less.  Also, if you are faced with a buffet, taking only what you can eat will also save some waste. If you notice you have extra food that is going bad, start buying and preparing less, or use leftovers in salad, soup or pasta dishes once or twice each week.

Finally your eating choices can benefit your health–perhaps even save money.

Photo credit: Creative Commons


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