GLOBAL ECONOMY

Five cost-effective ways to avoid chronic illnesses

MIAMI - JANUARY 18:  Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, Chief of General Internal Medicine University of Miami, conducts a checkup on Juan Gonzalez at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, as the United States House Republicans in Washington, DC were poised to approve a bill repealing the health care law that last year was signed into law overhauling the U.S. health care system on January 18, 2011 in Miami, Florida.  Dr. Carrasquillo said that anyone that wants to roll back the gains made by the overhaul of the health care law should spend one morning in a public hospital and you would not want to repeal the bill.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Olveen Carrasquillo;Juan Gonzalez

MIAMI - JANUARY 18: Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, Chief of General Internal Medicine University of Miami, conducts a checkup on Juan Gonzalez at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, as the United States House Republicans in Washington, DC were poised to approve a bill repealing the health care law that last year was signed into law overhauling the U.S. health care system on January 18, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Dr. Carrasquillo said that anyone that wants to roll back the gains made by the overhaul of the health care law should spend one morning in a public hospital and you would not want to repeal the bill. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Olveen Carrasquillo;Juan Gonzalez  (2011 Getty Images)

It’s hard to exercise and eat right when you’re on a tight budget and managing other stresses. But getting healthier doesn’t have to cost a lot, and it could save you money on health care in the long run.

Developing healthier habits now may reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease like diabetes, heart disease or asthma that will increase your health care costs and make it harder to work. Chronic diseases are on the rise in the Latino community, but you don’t have to be just another statistic. Adopt these inexpensive habits now to improve your health today and down the road.

1. Exercise on the cheap

Getting more exercise doesn’t require expensive equipment or even a gym membership. Walking and running require only a pair of decent shoes and can be done almost anywhere. Build fitness by taking public transit to work or doing errands on foot. During cold weather, look online for free exercise videos. Anything will work as long as you’re getting your heart rate up and moving your body.

2. Improve nutrition

There’s nothing like comfort food, especially if you’re using old family recipes. But there are many ways to prepare healthier versions of favorite dishes by reducing the amount of oil, salt and fried foods, or by increasing fresh vegetables and limiting carbohydrates. Avoid sugary drinks and other foods high in carbohydrates, which will reduce your chances of getting diabetes. If getting motivated to improve your diet is tough, check out these benefits of eating healthy for some inspiration.

3. Make it social

What do you like to do for fun? Think about how you can make that same activity more physical. It’s a lot easier to change your habits if your friends and family are changing with you. Try having parties in a park instead of in your living room. Being outside makes it easier to spend time together in a physically active way, tossing a football or a Frisbee or even just taking a walk.

4. Look for support

If you need help quitting an unhealthy habit, there is plenty of free support. Your local library, church or community center may offer a smoking-cessation program. Twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous are also free and can help you determine whether you just have a bad habit or a full-blown addiction. If you need help implementing an exercise routine, post a notice on a local bulletin board or neighborhood online forum. You may be able to find an exercise buddy.

5. Get insured

The open enrollment period for Obamacare starts on Nov. 15.  If you don’t sign up by Feb. 15, 2015, you may have to pay a penalty for being uninsured—not to mention going uninsured for the year. Look for a low-cost insurance option that will cover routine medical care. Even high-deductible plans now include a set of free preventive benefits. Seeing a doctor regularly will help you catch small health problems before they develop into full-blown chronic disease. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even find a health plan that will pay you to quit smoking or subsidize your gym membership.

Virginia C. McGuire writes for NerdWallet Health, a website that helps people reduce their medical bills.

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