June 14, 2024


Outstanding health & fitness

6 totally free ways to improve your health in 2021


YouTube is home to countless workout videos you can watch for free. BYO floor.

Getty Images/PixelsEffect

You could be forgiven if your self-care suffered in 2020, what with quarantines keeping you away from the gym, the election and civil unrest causing added stress and perhaps job loss limiting (or eliminating) what you could spend on your health and fitness.

Good news: You don’t need to spend anything on health and fitness. There are plenty of free alternatives to studio classes, workout gear and the like. Below I’ve rounded up six of my favorite freebies for exercising body and mind.

Read more: 6 things you absolutely don’t need to get fit or healthy in 2021


As the classic holiday song goes, just put one foot in front of the other. Walking is about as simple and straightforward as exercise gets, yet it affords myriad health benefits.

For starters, it gets you outdoors, which is beneficial all by itself. (See the section on getting outdoors in Amanda Capritto’s excellent guide to taking care of your mental health during the coronavirus, protests and beyond.)

Walking can also burn calories, lower your risk of heart disease, improve your mood, ease joint pain and much more. Read Healthline’s 10 benefits of walking to learn more. (Healthline, like CNET, is owned by Red Ventures.) Plus, it’s an activity you can actually do with friends, provided you stay at least six feet apart.

Perhaps best of all, walking requires no special gear — though obviously you’ll want comfortable shoes. Speaking of which, if you live someplace cold, consider a set of ice cleats that can slip onto your shoes or boots. (Just last night I almost took a header on an icy sidewalk.) Search Amazon and you’ll find dozens of options, some priced as low as $7.


Duh. Running also gets you outdoors, burns calories, improves your mood and so on. Of course, while the activity itself is free, you might need to invest in a pair of running shoes. My thinking (and running experience) aligns with this RunRepeat study: Expensive shoes are no better than affordable ones, and might actually be worse.

In other words, don’t feel obligated to spend $100 to $200, especially if you’re new to running. Every year or two I replace my $40 Asics with another pair of $40 Asics. At the risk of jinxing it, I’ve had zero problems with my feet, knees or the like. Your mileage may vary, but I’m just saying do the research before deciding how much to pay.

If you’re new to running, I recommend one of the various cheap or free couch-to-5K apps that can help ease you into it while providing an achievable goal. Start with the free version of C25K, which is available for Android and iOS.

Bodyweight exercises



If you’ve ever tried the 7-minute workout, you know it’s possible to get a serious sweat going without so much as looking at an exercise machine. Or a barbell. Or even a set of resistance bands.

In other words, you don’t have to buy a single piece of equipment to get total-body conditioning. Here’s everything you need to know about working out at home without any gear.

I do have a recommendation, though: Consider an exercise mat, which adds a bit of cushioning for floor-based workouts and some slip-resistance for HIIT. Here’s a 12-square-foot interlocking-tile mat for just $17, and you can find tons of similar ones priced in the $20 to $30 range. 

Intermittent fasting

Diets don’t work; lifestyle changes can. If you’re looking to lose weight and potentially recognize some other health benefits, consider intermittent fasting. Unlike many other weight-loss methods, IF costs nothing. There’s no subscription service to pay for every month, no special foods or supplements to buy. There are books you can get, sure, but plenty of them are free to check out from the library — and there are countless free resources available online as well.

The upshot: Eat whatever you want (within reason, of course), but only during certain hours of the day — your eating “window.” The joy of this is that you’re not denying yourself anything; you’re just delaying it.

And there’s an often-overlooked side benefit: By cutting one or two meals out of your day, you spend less on food. So not only is IF free, it can save you money. This isn’t just lip service, by the way: I’m an IF practitioner myself. Learn more in my story on how intermittent fasting can help you lose weight and save money.


Let’s not forget your mental health, shall we? Although exercise has been proven time and again to reduce stress and improve your mood, sometimes your monkey brain just runs amok. And that’s where meditation comes in: By allowing yourself a small chunk of time every day (even just 10 minutes) to tune out the distractions, to be mindful and present, you can tame that monkey.

Not sure where to start? There are tons of meditation apps; you’ve probably heard of Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer and Ten Percent Happier, to name just a few. Most offer a smattering of free meditations and unlimited access with a subscription. For a totally free experience, check out Smiling Mind. You can also find tons of free meditation videos on YouTube.

Keep in mind that different apps take different approaches to this practice. If the first one you try isn’t your cup of tea, try another. 

Read more: How to meditate: 5 tips for beginners

YouTube videos


YouTube is home to thousands of exercise videos. If you’re interested in trying yoga, for example, check out Yoga with Adriene.

Yoga with Adriene

Want to take a class? Until it’s safe to do them in person again, look to YouTube. You’ll find videos for just about every form of exercise you can imagine: high-intensity interval training, weight workouts, dance, kickboxing, yoga and so on.

A quick personal story: I’ve attended a handful of yoga classes over the years and never felt comfortable. In part I was too self-conscious, in part too frustrated by what seemed like an illogical series of movements. (How can you get a stretch if you’re quickly moving from one pose to the next?)

Anyway, during quarantine I really needed a salve for my mind and body, so on a friend’s recommendation I found Yoga with Adriene and started one of her 30-day programs. I didn’t have to be self-conscious because I was taking the class in the privacy of my home, and if I got frustrated I could just hit pause. In the end, I enjoyed the series and found a much better understanding of, and appreciation for, the practice.

Those are my tips for free mental and physical health. Hit the comments and share yours!

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.