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Living Healthy on the Cheap: Diet and Exercise on a Budget

I exercise several mornings a week on a very old Stairmaster that I bought second-hand years ago. I get a great work-out without leaving the house!

I'm cheap. Though I like to think I've become more reasonable with age, I still can't shop or make travel arrangements online because I'll spend way too long looking for the best "deal." I wear shirts and sneakers with holes because it seems wasteful to throw something out that is still functional, if not fashionable. I continue to use electronic devices that are scratched and ancient, by most standards – I don't want to spend the money on the new version if it's not essential. 


Although sometimes I'm too stingy, I know that because of MS, I need to be extra careful with my spending habits.


I'm also passionate about preventive care and healthy living.  Over the course of my career, I've coached thousands of patients - usually people with low incomes - about how to exercise and eat a healthy diet. Fortunately for them and for me, healthy living doesn't have to be expensive. And the benefits, both short- and long-term, are well worth the effort and planning that may be involved.


Tips for exercise:


  • Exercise is free! You do not need to join a gym or get fancy equipment to work out and to get in shape. Ignore the ads for the latest gadget! Walking or running are great forms of exercise that can be done almost anywhere. If you live in a climate that keeps you indoors some of the year, you can still find a large indoor space, such as a shopping mall, where you can walk. In warmer weather, many cities have great public pools for swimming. Also, many smart phone apps are free and offer a wide range of exercise options that can be done in your own home with no equipment other than a chair. I like the Johnson & Johnson app, but there are many, many others.


  • Check out the YMCA: The YMCA has locations all over the country and offers sliding scale membership fees for those with lower incomes. My family and I love the YMCA for their excellent programs for kids, wide range of classes (usually included with the monthly membership fee), and great strength training and aerobics equipment. We have also found that our Y membership travels with us: We can use other YMCA facilities around the country for no additional cost.


  • Visit used sporting goods stores: One of my favorite and most convenient ways to get a great aerobic workout is on a Stairmaster that I bought, used, about 10 years ago. I work up a sweat on the Stairmaster several days a week, and I can read, watch a video, and even keep an eye on my kids while I'm working out. Second-hand sporting goods stores often have a variety of barely-used equipment. I like having a Stairmaster at home because I can work out no matter what the weather is like outside and be available for my family.


Tips for healthy diet:


  • Prepare your own meals:  Meals prepared at home often are healthier and less expensive than food purchased at a restaurant. Food prep doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming. Online recipes are abundant and very helpful. Look for plant-based meals and avoid too much butter or high-fat dairy or meat. 


  • Focus on fruits and veggies: Try to get AT LEAST 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Buy in-season produce to save money, and look for coupons, which may come in the mail or be available in fliers at the store. Produce at stores like Costco may be much cheaper than regular grocery stories, and you can freeze what you don't use to make smoothies or stews later on.


  • Look for the healthy options on fast food menus: If you don't have time to cook, and you're in a rush, seek out the fast food venues with healthier options. Many fast food venues have salads on the menu, which are usually a pretty safe choice. Choose fruit instead of chips or fries for a side item. Get tap water to drink – it's free and healthier than just about anything else you can order.


Exercise and eating a healthy diet are the most important forms of self-care. For us MS warriors and others with chronic disease, they may be even more critical to our health and well-being.


For more diet tips, checkout this Healthline article.


Please add your tips below for healthy living on a budget.



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