walkingAlthough cost is often cited as a reason for not joining gyms and buying more nutritious food – two measures that can improve health – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) isn’t buying that excuse.

The CDC has tips and informational resources on how to stay healthy on the cheap by making smart choices that are low-cost or free. A bonus: many are simple, too.

From the CDC’s recommendations:

Be active

You don’t need anything fancy, expensive, or complicated to be active. Regular physical activity may help lower your risk for many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon and breast cancers. Physical activity also helps to control weight, contributes to healthy bones, muscles, and joints, and reduces falls among older adults. Adults should be active for at least 2½ hours a week. Include activities that raise your breathing and heart rate and that strengthen your muscles. Adults should also do strengthening activities at least 2 days a week.

Physical Activity for Everyone

Walking Safety

Make healthier (and less costly) food choices

For instance, choose beans instead of meat. Use canned or dried beans in recipes instead of meat, which is more expensive. Traditional recipes made with meat, such as chili, soups, and Mexican dishes like burritos, are delicious with beans.

Healthy Recipes


Planning Meals

Buy canned or frozen fruits and veggies. Depending on the recipe, canned and frozen veggies can work just as well as the fresh kind. They're also cheaper and last longer than fresh ones.

30 Ways in 30 Days to Stretch your Fruit and Vegetable Budget [PDF - 512KB]

Buy seasonal. Purchase fresh fruits and vegetables in season when they tend to be less expensive. Blend the fruit into a smoothie to take with you on the go!

What Fruits & Vegetables Are in Season

Grow your own food. Growing your own vegetables is a budget-friendly option for getting your daily dose of colorful produce. A novice gardener can grow a variety of inexpensive fresh vegetables that can be included in any summer meal.

National Gardening Association

Drink water

Choosing water keeps you from drinking something else that may be loaded with calories and sugar. People who drink sugar-sweetened beverages tend to consume more calories. For a quick, easy, and cheap thirst-quencher, carry a water bottle, and refill it throughout the day. Tap water is fine to drink.

Rethink Your Drink

Limit food portions

Take control of the amount of food that ends up on your plate. If eating out, split an entrée with a friend. Or, ask for a "to-go" box and wrap up half your meal as soon as it's brought to the table. If eating in, serve food on individual plates or bowls instead of eating straight from the package. Minimize the temptation of second and third helpings.

How to Avoid Portion Size Pitfalls to Help Manage Your Weight

Sodium and Food Sources

Look for store brands. Generic and store brands tend to cost less than name brands and have similar taste and nutrition.

Healthy Eating on a Budget [PDF - 332KB]

Use coupons, and look in grocery store circulars for discounts on fruits and veggies that you need.

Eating Better on a Budget [PDF - 268KB]

Find affordable health care

Many programs are available through federally funded and state-sponsored programs that are free or low-cost. They are offered through hospitals, health centers, public health departments, and clinics. Also, the health reform law will give many Americans new opportunities to get needed services and care. Some benefits are already available and others will become available by 2014.

Find a Health Center (HRSA)

Find Insurance Options (HHS)

Public Health Resources: State Health Departments

National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program

Colorectal Cancer Screening

Avoid unnecessary medicines.
Antibiotics can kill bacteria but not viruses. Antibiotics and cough and cold medications will not cure most colds, coughs, flus, sore throats, or runny noses. These medicines can sometimes cause more harm than good. Save your money.

What Everyone Should Know and Do … No Antibiotics Please!

Quit smoking

Smoking is expensive, and that doesn't even include the long-term costs associated with chronic disease and other problems that can develop later. It's never too late to quit smoking. Quitting improves your health and reduces your risk for heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and other smoking-related illnesses. Quit now with free coaching, a free quit plan, free educational materials, and a list of helpful online resources.

Tips from Former Smokers: I’m Ready to Quit!

For Moms-to-be

Subscribe to text4baby. Get free health text messages for pregnant and new moms.
Text4baby is a free service that provides pregnant women and new moms with free text messages each week on pregnancy and caring for babies younger than 1 year old. These messages are timed to a woman's due date or the baby's date of birth. Sign up for the service by texting BABY to 511411 (or BEBE in Spanish) to receive free SMS text messages.


Get recommended vaccines. Making sure you have all of the recommended vaccines, especially if you are pregnant, and getting your child vaccinated on time can help prevent serious and costly diseases. When you prevent disease, you can also save money on visits to the doctor or clinic and time away from work. Review the recommended childhood and adult immunization schedules.

If you don't have health insurance, or if your insurance does not cover vaccinations, your child is eligible for vaccines through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program. This federal program provides vaccines for eligible children at no cost for the vaccine itself, although an administration fee may apply. VFC vaccines cannot be denied to an eligible child if the family can’t afford to pay the administration fee. Find out if your child qualifies. Vaccinating on time means healthier children, families, and communities.

For Moms

Breastfeed. Both babies and mothers benefit from breastfeeding. Breast milk is free, is easy to digest, and contains antibodies that can protect infants from infections. Women who breastfeed may also have lower rates of certain breast and ovarian cancers.

Breastfeeding information