Improve Your Health, Wealth - Without Spending a Lot

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You know that staying healthy has plenty of positive benefits -- you feel happier, you have more energy, you may even live longer. But did you know being healthy can also have a positive impact on your wallet?

Here are six ways that taking good care of yourself can also pay off for your finances -- and six ways you can develop strong health without spending a fortune.

One disclaimer before we jump into this list: There are exceptions, of course. You might lead a perfectly healthy lifestyle but suffer from an accident or illness. Unfortunately, there are lots of people eat right, exercise, wear sunblock, don't smoke, floss -- and get diagnosed with cancer. It happens.

The tips in this article don't guarantee good health or low medical bills. They're simply intended to get you thinking about the relationship between your health and your money, and to encourage you to take care of your health so that your wallet can hopefully share the positive effects. Yes, some people will become survivors of bad luck or misfortune, but let's do whatever is within our power to lower the likelihood of needing pricey medical care.

With that said, let's launch into six ways your health impacts your net worth, and six free or cheap ways you can improve your health.

1. Fewer Doctor's Visits

Every time you visit the doctor, you face a deductible and a co-payment (plus plenty of potential additional expenses depending on the course of treatment she recommends). If you need to see a specialist, that co-pay increases, and your co-insurance may also kick in.

But if you keep yourself in good shape and follow your doctor's advice when she recommends a certain lifestyle change or course of action, you'll be less likely to need too many visits. That "apple a day keeps the doctor away" saying has some truth to it –- and apples are cheaper than appointments.

2. Lower Pharmacy Costs

If you eat well, exercise regularly and follow your doctor's orders, you'll increase your likelihood of needing fewer medications for aches, pains and ailments. You could save on everything from pricey prescriptions to over-the-counter meds, which anyone in less-than-perfect shape can tell you could cost hundreds a month.

3. Less Time Missed From Work

Depending on how many days paid sick days your company allows, an extended illness -- or too many minor illnesses -- could wind up costing you several days' pay. Excessive absences also look bad to employers, which can affect things like your performance review, promotion potential and opportunities for raises. In other words, sick days harm your finances all around, both short-term and long-term.

4. Better Work Performance

When you're mentally and physically fit, the days you do spend in the office will be more focused, productive and efficient. When you feel well, your mind is alert and you're better able to deal with problems as they arise. You can rise to challenges and exceed expectations -- which has quite a nice effect on those things like performance reviews, promotion potential and opportunities for raises.

5. Less Money Wasted on Bad Habits

Plenty of things that are bad for your health are also bad for your wallet. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and existing on a diet of fast food and soda are expensive habits. Cut these out of your life, and you'll find you suddenly have much more money left over at the end of the month.

6. More Energy to Start a Side Hustle

If you've ever though of starting a side business -- whether it's selling crafts on Etsy or launching your own landscaping company -- you'll find you have much more energy to pursue it if you're in good health. A side business can be a great way to bring in some extra money, but it's not the kind of thing you can do for a couple hours when you feel like it. As any shark on "Shark Tank" will tell you, it takes determination and plenty of sweat equity.

How to Improve Your Health -- for Free (or for Not Much)

So how can you maintain your health without spending too much of that money you've just saved by being so healthy? Here are six simple (and inexpensive) strategies.

1. Shop Smarter

You can eat better without spending a fortune by buying in-season produce, stocking up on cheap but healthy staples like brown rice and beans, planning your meals ahead of time and keeping fresh fruits around when you're hungry and running out the door.

2. Cook Smarter

Make meals from scratch rather than paying for convenience foods and packaged meals. Use the same basic staples (such as rice or pasta, some lean protein and veggies) to make multiple meals, such as tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas, Thai curry, vegetable roasts and stir-fries. This will limit your food waste and simplify shopping.

One day per week, cook meals in bulk and freeze or refrigerate leftovers to eat throughout the week. The more easily you can pop something in the microwave during the week, the more likely you are to stick with your meal plan. Brown-bag your work lunches instead of grabbing something on the go.

3. Drink More Water

Carry a water bottle with you to make sure you're staying hydrated; it will keep you fuller longer and help you stave off dehydration symptoms like headaches. Keep a glass of water at your desk and sip it throughout the day; each time you get up to use the bathroom, refill the glass.

4. Exercise for Free

Staying fit doesn't have to cost a fortune. Try exercising to YouTube videos, walking your dog, jogging with a friend or joining a dodgeball league. Download free fitness apps that guide you through exercises, play Frisbee or soccer in the park on the weekends or learn a few yoga poses that you can practice in your living room. Do push-ups, squats, lunges and crunches.

Exercise your imagination: place a circular, uncovered trash can on the top rung of a ladder and use it as a backyard basketball "hoop." Tie some string between two trees and turn it into a tennis "net." Turn a gallon of milk into a "barbell" that can help you practice bicep curls.

5. Meditate

Studies have shown that a regular meditation practice can help with a slew of medical issues, including high blood pressure, insomnia and chronic pain. It can also help reduce your stress levels, and stress brings its own set of medical problems.

Taking 15 minutes a day to practice deep-breathing and relaxation can have a big payoff. If that feels like too much time, start by deep-breathing and meditating for just one minute per day. Develop this habit by repeating it everyday for a week. The following week, increase this to two minutes. The week after, increase it to three minutes.

6. Use an App

There are tons of health and fitness apps available for free or very cheap that can help you to maintain a healthier lifestyle. From step trackers to calorie counters to preloaded workout routines, there's an app for any health resolution you might want to make. Scroll iTunes or Google (GOOG) Play until you find a free app that sparks your interest. Start by downloading just one app, and commit to using it daily for 21 days, until it becomes an ingrained habit.

Paula Pant ditched her 9-to-5 job in 2008. She's traveled to 32 countries, runs a popular finance blog and is a successful real estate investor. Her blog, Afford Anything, is the groundswell of a rebellion against stodgy, uninspired financial advice. Afford Anything shows you how to crush limits, create wealth and maximize life.
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