It Pays To Get Fit

Adopting a healthier lifestyle can help you save money in more ways than one.
By Jessica Storm
Updated Nov 4, 2020
it pays to be fit
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Adopting a healthier lifestyle can help you save money in more ways than one. In the U.S., healthcare spending has steadily increased since the 1990s. In the last report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, it now tops $10,739 per person or a staggering $3.5 trillion per year. Instead of investing all that money in doctors, pills, and the insurance policies that pay for them, consider the economic benefits of maintaining good health.

What is good health?

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that health is "a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities." A healthy person's body operates at optimal capacity due to an absence of disease and the presence of adequate exercise and nutrition. 

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To stay in good health, most researchers and healthcare providers agree, you need to maintain a few essential habits:

  • Don't smoke. According to the Center for Disease Control, smoking contributes to one in five deaths in the U.S. That's more than HIV, motor vehicle accidents, drugs, alcohol, and firearms combined. Smoking increases the risk of stroke, coronary disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The best way to improve your health, save money, and avoid an early grave? Quit smoking.

  • Eat a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. It's one of the best ways to prevent obesity, which contributes to coronary diseases, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Plus, obese patients spend $1,429 at the doctor then do those with a healthy weight.

  • Exercise. Just 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week can lower your risk of numerous health conditions such as dementia, heart disease, arthritis, and even injuries. Exercise can also improve mood, lower stress, and increase overall wellbeing. A gym membership or a sturdy pair of running shoes is a small investment, and the Journal of the American Heart Association estimates that exercise could save Americans $500 and $2,500 a year.

The ways life insurance rewards a healthy lifestyle

Life insurance is a gamble. The insurance company is laying odds that you will live a long time. That's why insurance providers want they are insured to stay as healthy as possible: good health prolongs life expectancy. You may be eligible for a lower life insurance premium by having a lower Body Mass Index (BMI), for instance, or by being a non-smoker. Some life insurance companies will also award you healthy lifestyle credits based on a matrix of your current health, your health literacy, and your active lifestyle.

Insurers now institute programs rewarding people for healthy behaviors, such as going for annual checkups at the doctor's office, losing weight, and getting a flu shot. These insurers may provide gift cards to participating retailers for people who engage in activities designed to prolong their lifespan. It's a good idea to check with your health insurance carrier about fitness reimbursement benefits, free health classes, and other incentives for staying healthy.

Nearly all life insurance agencies determine your policy's cost by assigning you to a class such as preferred, standard, or standard tobacco. People with the fewest health risks go into the preferred level, where they pay the lowest premiums. Less-healthy individuals pay higher costs as members of the standard class, while smokers can pay four times as much for life insurance as a healthy preferred customer. Not only is life insurance cheaper for healthy individuals, but so are disability and health insurance.

Why does being healthy reduce your expenses?

You can lower overall healthcare costs by taking steps to prevent diseases and improve your health. Staying healthy means fewer sick days, less medication, and often fewer doctor's visits. Here are a few more ways of being healthy helps you stay within the household budget:

  • You stay more productive. A 2012 study at Brigham Young University determined that "employees with unhealthy diets were 66 percent more likely to report having a loss in productivity." In other words, when employers are deciding who has to go in a mass layoff or who gets the next promotion, healthy workers are more likely to come out on top.

  • You remain active longer. Healthy people can continue to work full-time or part-time past their retirement age, saving money while their less-healthy peers are spending it. 

  • You spend less money on junk food and sedentary hobbies. Treats, snacks, fast food, desserts, and sugary coffee drinks don't come cheap. By saving just $11.50 on two fast-food meals per week, you can put $1,200 in the bank, an investment, or a retirement account this year. Multiply that number across your working lifetime, and you could be looking at real money.

  • You cut out the cost of cigarettes and alcohol. A pack-a-day smoker spends $2,011 per year on cigarettes alone. By eliminating smoking and reducing alcohol to 1-2 drinks per day, smokers and heavy drinkers can improve both their health and the size of their wallets. 

  • You may save on gas and car-related expenses. Some healthy alternatives to riding in a car include: walking to work on beautiful days, bicycling to a friend's house, or jogging to do a quick errand.

Steps the government is taking to make a healthy life a better life

Not only do insurers want you to stay healthy, but the government does, too. The PHIT Act, hoping to make gym memberships and fitness classes tax-deductible, demonstrates that public policymakers encourage healthy choices. State governments are looking into making school lunches both more robust and tastier. Local municipalities are changing zoning laws to make sure low-income communities have access to nutrient-rich, low-calorie foods at affordable prices. Staying healthy benefits more than just you. It also improves your family's life and raises the wellbeing of your entire community. Plus, staying healthy by not smoking, eating right, and exercising can help you save money at the insurance office, the grocery store, and even the fuel pump. 

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