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9 ways to get healthy on a budget

Dr Michela Sorensen

Here are a few ways to get fit without breaking the bank

A young woman chopping healthy food in the kitchen
A young woman chopping healthy food in the kitchen

Fitness trackers, superfoods, personal trainers, activewear, supplements – when did getting healthy become so expensive?

Before you start adding chia seeds, a Fitbit and compression tights to your shopping list, listen up! Despite the superfoods and fitness fads making waves across the country, all you really need to get healthy is a balanced diet, enough sleep and at least 30 minutes of exercise per day.

It takes careful planning and a bit of dedication, but everyone is capable of taking control of their health – no acai berries needed! Here are nine ways you can embrace a fitter, healthier lifestyle without breaking the budget.

1. Drink H20

Coffee, soft drink, juice, flavoured milk, bottled water, matcha lattes – you can easily blow your budget on drinks alone. Save calories and cash by replacing drinks throughout your day with tap water.

In addition to nourishing your cells, aiding digestion and flushing out toxins, tap water is cheap as chips compared to bottled water according to figures from Sydney Water. If you’re looking for a flavour hit, add seasonal berries or a squeeze of citrus.

How much water do you actually need? Australian dietary guidelines recommend 8 – 10 cups (around 2 – 2. litres) a day for adults. Some of this may come from water-rich foods or herbal teas, but the majority should be plain water, notes GP Dr Michela Sorensen.

2. Buy in bulk

You don’t have to fill your kitchen cupboards to the brim in one go, but if you buy a staple or two each week, you’ll be able to build your pantry options and have a variety of cheap eats available.

Look for supermarket specials on bulk items that will last such as brown rice, wholemeal pasta, oats, baked beans and tinned tuna. A big bag of brown rice is initially going to cost you more than a fast-food meal, but you’ll get more meals for your money in the long-term.

If you’re stocking up, Michela notes that some canned fruits and vegetables can be high in salt; she recommends buying frozen instead. It makes it so easy to steam a side of green veggies or throw a handful of frozen berries in your smoothies.

3. Is it time to ditch your gym membership?

Research shows Australians are spending more than $3 billion on gym memberships and classes. If you’re paying a premium for a gym but you hardly go, it might be time to ditch your membership and look for a new way to work out.

Dust off your bike, lace up your joggers and lay out a yoga mat in your living room; regular exercise doesn’t have to cost a thing. With plenty of YouTube exercise videos and apps offering everything from yoga to run training and Tabata, there are a heap of free workout options at your fingertips.

Check out fitness expert Cassey Maynard’s tips and tricks for the best ways to get active – no gym membership required!

Or, skip the tech entirely and simply add walking into your week. It’s free, low-impact and suitable for most fitness levels. Michela recommends aiming for a 20-minute walk most days of the week, at an intensity that allows you to maintain a short conversation but leaves you slightly breathless.

If you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s always a good idea to visit a GP for a health check-up first, she adds.

Credit: nib health insurance

4. Buy in season

When fruit and veggies are flown in from other countries, they’re understandably more expensive. That’s why it’s best to buy food that’s in season. Visit your local farmers’ market for in-season produce that’s generally cheaper, fresher and packed with nutrients and flavour.

Selecting produce from the ‘odd picks’ table is another smart way to save, Michela says. “They’re just as nutritious and they can sometimes be half the price.” For a complete overview of the fruits and veggies that are at their peak at different times of the year, check out the Sustainable Table’s seasonal produce guide.

5. Make friends with your freezer

When it comes to kitchen appliances, your freezer wins the award for most underrated. When you have time, consider making a double or triple batch of your favourite freezer-friendly meals.

There will be days where the last thing you feel like doing is cooking, and if you have healthy meals at hand, you’ll be less likely to hit up the drive-through. Here are a few options to help you get started.

6. Go meat-free on Mondays

Protein-rich foods are an essential part of a balanced diet, but don’t be fooled into thinking the only way you can get protein is through meat. Beans and legumes are high in nutrients and low in cost, so why not give Meatless Monday a try?

Going meat-free just one day a week can help lower your overall intake of salt and fat, which can help with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, Michela says. “It also helps reduce your risk of certain cancers, like bowel cancer, by reducing your red meat intake.”

In addition to being a cost-effective meat replacement, beans and legumes are a rich source of fibre, zinc and other nutrients. They can also help reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and increase healthy gut bacteria explains Michela.

7. Commit to a sleep schedule

Michela calls sleep “one of the building blocks of our health”. It’s the time when our cells heal and our body regenerates, plus it’s important for our immune system and mental health she explains.

Sleep itself may be free of charge, but it can be hard to get quality shut-eye when you have things on your mind. Sticking to a regular sleep/wake routine can be helpful if you find it difficult to fall or stay asleep.

Michela suggests setting an alarm for bedtime. “It sounds silly, but we set alarms to wake up in the morning and to remind us of meetings, so why not set one for when it’s time to turn the television off, put the phone down and start your bedtime routine?”

8. Rethink your drinks

A trip to the pub after work, a bottle of wine on a Saturday night… it all adds up. Cutting back on booze is good for your wallet, as well as reducing the risk of diabetes, mental health issues and certain cancers.

The National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines recommend adults have no more than two standard drinks on any given day and include two alcohol-free days per week. Those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or are under 18 years old should avoid alcohol completely.

Hello Sunday Morning’s Daybreak app, supported by nib foundation, is a useful tool for people wanting to find ways to change their relationship with alcohol. Their online self-assessment helps nib members assess their drinking habits and find support to improve their relationship with alcohol.

9. Map out your menu

According to nib foundation partner OzHarvest, one in five bags of groceries ends up in the bin, which costs households between $2,000 and $2,500 every year. There’s no point buying a bunch of healthy food if it just ends up wilting and mouldy in the bottom of your crisper.

Before you hit the shops, spend some time creating a meal plan for the week ahead. By carrying a shopping list and sticking to it, you’ll spend less money and stay on track with your healthy meal plan.

For plenty of delicious and nutritious food ideas, head to the recipes section of The Check Up.

Dr Michela Sorensen

Dr Michela Sorensen

Dr Michela Sorensen is a GP who is passionate about women’s, mental and rural health. She believes access is the biggest barrier we have when it comes to our health, and is a strong advocate for change in this area. In her spare time, Michela enjoys baking... and eating most of the mixture before it actually makes it into the oven.