9 Inexpensive Ways to Boost Your Health
Being fit, happy and healthy doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. These low-budget items have big payoffs when it comes to your well-being.
Let’s be honest: add up the cost of fresh produce, gym memberships, and prescriptions, and you’re easily dropping hundreds of dollars on improving your health each year. But it turns out that some of the best things for your well-being are free—or really inexpensive. Invest in the following budget-friendly mind and body boosters, and you’ll cash in big-time.
1. Resistance Tubing
Forget shelling out $100 an hour on a personal trainer—all you need to spend for a total-body strength session is $5-$15 for a resistance tube or band. These stretchy strips of rubber can tone and strengthen your muscles from multiple angles, says New York City-based trainer and fitness consultant Amie Hoff. “They can also provide cardio, which burns calories and improves your heart health,” she says. Plus, they’re super lightweight and easy to pack, so you can sneak in a workout anywhere.
2. A Potted Plant
A little greenery can do a whole lot more than spruce up your workplace: Scientists at Washington State University discovered that employees who had plants in their offices were more productive and less stressed than those who didn’t.
“Plus, they can reduce airborne dust and add moisture to dry air, which makes for a more comfortable environment,” says Virginia Lohr, Ph.D., a professor in the department of horticulture at Washington State University. Consider Gerbera daisies, ficus and ivy, or plants that don’t need much light—peace lily, Chinese evergreen or pothos. Research shows they can filter out harmful pollutants, such as benzene (a chemical found in car exhaust). All in all, there’s no prettier way to clear the air.
3. Gardening Tools
My, how your garden grows—and your anxiety melts away. “Spending time outside in a green space can renew your capacity to focus and be productive. Research also suggests that it can lower your levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” says Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., a horticulture instructor and researcher in the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In fact, one Norwegian study revealed that gardening for half an hour was better at relieving stress than reading for the same amount of time.
Another bonus: Gardening burns around 250 calories an hour, and that adds up. One study observed that people who participated in a community garden weighed significantly less than those who didn’t. “Growing your own produce encourages you to move more and eat more fruits and vegetables,” says study author Cathleen Zick, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Utah.
4. A Vacation Picture
Been meaning to frame that snapshot of your family at the lake or of last year’s anniversary trip? Here’s incentive: Gazing at a happy moment from the past can improve your present outlook. “If you reflect on good memories, like an amazing vacation with your friends, you might actually be able to experience the same sensation you felt in that moment—a sense of well-being and vitality,” says Ryan Howell, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University.
Research also shows that people with stronger relationships to friends and family live longer, bounce back from illness easier and have a better quality of life. Surrounding yourself with pictures of your loved ones can remind you of this bond, Howell says, and make you feel more upbeat and optimistic about the future.
5. A Reusable Water Bottle
To shrug off a midday slump, keep sipping water. “All it takes is being 1 or 2 percent dehydrated—right at the point you start feeling thirsty—to experience side effects like fatigue and headaches,” says Brenda Davy, Ph.D., R.D., an associate professor at Virginia Tech. Another potential perk? Davy’s research found that people who drank two cups of water before eating consumed 75-90 fewer calories during the following meal than those who didn’t drink up. To stay hydrated, keep a water bottle on hand.
6. A Broom
Sweeping the floor not only tidies your home, but also benefits your body. Research shows that incorporating short bouts of activity throughout your day can be an effective way of meeting physical activity goals. “Cleaning the house, walking your dog, taking the stairs—all of these things help you burn extra calories and keep your muscles moving,” says Los Angeles-based trainer Ashley Borden. Plus making yourself do household chores on days you talk yourself out of the gym may just make that treadmill seem more appealing.
7. A New Pillow
Catching enough z’s keeps you from turning into a total cranky-pants, but it’s also critical to your health: “Getting an insufficient amount of sleep can lead to or worsen a number of illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer,” says Kenneth Wright Jr., Ph.D., director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In one study, people who clocked five hours of shut-eye or less each night were more likely to put on pounds. “When you’re tired, your brain sends a message that you need to replace that lost energy, so you wind up overeating,” Wright says.
To help log seven to nine hours of rest each night, make sleep a priority and invest in a few low-budget bedroom improvements, such as a replacement for that too-old pillow, which might not properly support your neck and spine, causing you to toss and turn. And consider installing heavy drapes to quiet and darken the room: even small amounts of noise and light can interrupt sleep.
8. Dental Floss
Despite repeated warnings from moms and dentists alike, nearly 50 percent of Americans don’t floss regularly—even though flossing might be more important than brushing when it comes to staving off gum disease. That’s worrisome, because poor oral health has been linked to a variety of other chronic problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and pneumonia. To keep your gums in tip-top shape, clean between your teeth at least once a day, unless otherwise instructed by your dental hygienist. At your next visit, ask the dentist or dental hygienist to show you how to floss right—most people could use a little refresher.
9. A Pair of Walking Shoes
Good news: You don’t have to sprint through your workout to see big health benefits. Walking at a steady clip may be just as effective as running at lowering your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, reports a study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Ready to get walking? “All you need to get started is a pair of shoes with arch support, plenty of room for your toes and no slipping at the heel,” says Janet Hamilton, an exercise physiologist and a coach with Running Strong in Atlanta.
To make the most of your mileage, aim for four-to-five walks a week, including one long walk that makes up about a third of your total weekly distance, one that takes you up and down hills and one with speed bursts (every three to four minutes, pick up your pace for about one minute). Switching your routine will keep you on your toes—and add an extra challenge for your muscles and endurance.
Special guest author: Lindsey Emery
With permission by Better Homes & Gardens