The Healthiest (& Unhealthiest) States in America

With the start of a new year, many of us have embarked on self-betterment resolutions. The vast majority of these are health-related: Eat healthier, get more exercise, sleep better, stay fit, lose weight.

But what about financial health? Many of us are resolving to get our financial house in order, too. It turns out the two are closely related.

Policygenius, a leading online insurance marketplace, was curious about how people applying for life insurance compare health-wise to the nation at large — and wherein particular certain conditions, like tobacco use, heart disease or diabetes, are above or below the national average. Additionally, we looked at the financial costs associated with these conditions as compared to a healthy lifestyle.

We’ll explore these topics in depth. Here’s a summary of our findings.

  • Surprisingly, life insurance applicants overall have lower rates of high cholesterol, tobacco use, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, and depression than the average American — but figures vary widely by state.
  • Life insurance applicants in North Dakota (34.8%) have much higher rates of tobacco use than the national average (20.5%), while those in Utah (8.2%) have much lower rates.
  • Life insurance applicants in South Carolina (17.3%) have much higher rates of high cholesterol than the national average (11.8%), while applicants in Montana (2.1%) have much lower rates.
  • Smoking has the highest impact on life insurance premiums (342% increase), while high cholesterol has the lowest impact (31% more).

Now, let’s take a deeper look at the data.

Life insurance applicants are healthier than average

One might expect unhealthy people to apply for life insurance more than healthy people since they’re at higher risk of no longer being there to support their families. Counterintuitively, the opposite is true: People applying for life insurance pursue healthier lifestyles than average.

We looked at two years worth of anonymized data (11/2015 to 11/2017) from life insurance applicants with various providers. To ensure the highest accuracy, we limited our dataset to phone-verified applicants. For the national data, we used figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, National Institute of Mental Health and others. At 38 years old, the median age of our applicants matches the national average provided in 2015 census data.

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Interestingly, the average life insurance applicant in our data set had lower percentages of ailments across the board.

Life insurance applicants, on average, have lower rates of high cholesterol (25% less than national average), tobacco use (22%), high blood pressure (14.4%), diabetes (7.1%), sleep apnea (4.2%), asthma (3.6%) and depression (0.7%).

Let’s take a look at how health varies geographically.

Health conditions vary widely across America

Though life insurance applicants are healthier than the average American, it largely depends on where they’re from.

To get a bigger-picture sense of this, we broke down each health condition by state. Averaging out the percentages for all ailments across states, here are the top 10 healthiest (and least healthy) states:

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Overall, folks in Montana and Wyoming are tied for healthiest life insurance applicants. The western U.S. seems particularly healthy, claiming four of the five top states. On the flip side, the southern U.S. seems particularly unhealthy: though North Dakota claims the top spot (12.4% of insurance applicants have an ailment there), the South takes three of the top five positions.

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Next, let’s get into more granular detail by breaking down each ailment on a state level. Starting with high cholesterol, we can see there’s a wide variance.

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Life insurance applicants in South Carolina (17.3%), West Virginia (16.7%) and Idaho (16.4%) have much higher rates of high cholesterol than the national average (11.8%). Meanwhile, applicants in Montana (2.1%), New Mexico (3.1%) and D.C. (5.6%) have much lower rates.

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Life insurance applicants in North Dakota (34.8%), Vermont (28.6%) and Kansas (27.2%) have much higher rates of tobacco use than the national average (20.5%), while applicants in Utah (8.2%), Idaho (8.2%) and Hawaii (8.9%) have much lower rates.

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Life insurance applicants in Alabama (23.2%), Louisiana (22.4%) and Mississippi (22.2%) have much higher rates of high blood pressure than the national average (14.6%), while applicants in Montana (2.1%), D.C. (6.8%) and Rhode Island (7.1%) have much lower rates.

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Life insurance applicants in Kansas (6.1%), Louisiana (4.8%) and North Dakota (4.3%) have much higher rates of diabetes than the national average (2.3%), while applicants in Missouri (0.4%), D.C. (0.6%) and Wisconsin (0.7%) have much lower rates.

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Life insurance applicants in Iowa (5.5%), Missouri (5.2%) and Indiana (4.8%) have much higher rates of sleep apnea than the national average (2.4%), while those in Oklahoma (0.8%), Michigan (1.1%) and D.C. (1.1%) have much lower rates.

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Life insurance applicants in Rhode Island (11.9%), D.C. (7.9%) and Hawaii (7.1%) have much higher rates of asthma than the national average (4.4%), while applicants in Maine (1.4%), New Mexico (1.5%) and Idaho (1.6%) have much lower rates.

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Life insurance applicants in North Dakota (17.4%), Iowa (12.7%) and Delaware (10.3%) have much higher rates of depression than the national average (6.3%), while applicants in Louisiana (2%), South Dakota (2.4%) and Alaska (3.1%) have much lower rates.

Keep in mind, these figures don’t speak to the overall averages of these conditions in each state, but rather the averages among life insurance applicants.

How does my health impact my finances?

Though life insurance applicants seem to be healthier than the average American, those who do have health ailments and/or certain habits end up paying significantly more money for their policies.

To find out exactly how much more, we used a profile of the average life insurance applicant — a 38-year-old male applying for a $500,000, 20-year term policy, which will cost $25.37 per month.

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Far and away, smoking causes the highest increase in a policy’s monthly cost. Smokers pay $112.23 — or an astounding 342% more than average. Over 20 years, the smoker will pay about $21,000 more than the non-smoker for the same coverage.

This is likely because smoking increases death from all causes in both men and women, and is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.

Diabetes also ranks highly, at 210% more, as do (somewhat surprisingly) sleep apnea (190%) and asthma (152%). High cholesterol and high blood pressure, equally surprisingly, seem to have less of an effect on insurance costs.

To conclude, our report shows people applying for life insurance, on the whole, are healthier than the average American. Aside from certain regional outliers, this proves to be true across the board. Additionally, a healthy lifestyle comes with significant savings on financial protection.

Those making New Year’s resolutions to improve their physical and financial health are in luck — the two go hand in hand. If you’re a smoker who plans to enroll in a life insurance plan, it’s pretty clear what your 2018 resolution should be. That is, unless you’d like to pay 3.5x more for your coverage.

Have a health condition? Here’s everything you need to know about finding an affordable life insurance policy.


This article originally appeared on Policygenius.
Image: Getty

 

6 Affordable Ways to Become Your Healthiest Self

You may have cheated on your diet too many times this year or paid for a gym membership that you only used twice. Sound familiar?

Indeed, I’ve been there. Two years ago, I was working at a job I didn’t like and my harmful habits were not what I would call mentally, physically, and financially healthy. I sat all day, snacked on junk food and candy, and was too overwhelmed to manage my money properly.

I turned things around and so can you. With 2018 right around the corner, this is the perfect opportunity to make positive changes and improve your health. To get started, check out these  6 easy and affordable tips.

1. Get More Sleep

Getting enough sleep at night is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health and restore your energy each day. Plus, it’s absolutely free!

With this said, 40% of adults state they get less than the recommended amount of sleep each night, according to a Gallup poll. This isn’t good news because you should be getting at least eight hours of sleep each night in order to fully rest and restore.

If you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, make a commitment to go to bed earlier or wake up a little later if possible. This may involve cutting some tasks out of your schedule and having a more productive morning and nightly routine, but it will be well worth it.

2. Drink Enough Water

It’s ideal to drink about two liters (eight 8-ounce glasses) of water per day. Most of us, however, fall short of this goal and may become dehydrated without realizing it.

To increase your water intake, start tracking it daily. You can also infuse your water with fresh fruit if you think it will improve the taste. Last year, I bought a 22-ounce water bottle and it was an easy way to train myself to drink more water on the go. I knew that once I filled up my water bottle for a third time during the day, I was getting closer reaching my daily water intake goal.

3. Find Out Exactly Where Your Money is Going

Financial health can also contribute to your physical and mental health. If you’re stressed about money, it’s a good idea to keep an updated budget and this way you’ll know exactly where your money is going.

For starters, clarify how much you’re earning each month and make a list of all your expenses. See if there’s any money leftover to make extra debt payments. And, make sure you’re not racking up unnecessary bank charges, as this can put a strain on your finances. If this is the case, consider switching to a free bank.

The next steps to getting your finances in order include building up a rainy day fund and automating your savings. Lastly, it’s now time to focus on going after your long-term goals.

4. Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Consuming sugary foods and beverages can be a hard habit to get rid of because sugar can be addicting. Yet, you don’t have to go cold turkey right away.

To start cutting down on sugars, read the labels whenever you buy something. Some code words for sugar include lactose, malt syrup, cane crystals, crystalline, and fructose (i.e. high fructose corn syrup). Once you see these words on the ingredient label, try to swap them out for healthier options. For example, perhaps you can switch to a less-sugary breakfast cereal, or replace your fruity yogurt with plain Greek yogurt and then add fresh fruit on your own.

Passing on sugary foods and better yet – cooking at home – will also help you save money and perhaps even make more money.

5. Make Time to Exercise

When your schedule gets busy, exercise is one of the first things to go. But, you can make changes to fit exercise into your life.

First, you need to make a real commitment based on your own needs and goals. For example, while you may not be able to do a hardcore gym session daily, you can try working out at least three days a week to start.

You also don’t need a gym membership if it’s not in your budget. You can go for walks or run around the neighborhood, rent exercise DVDs from the library, watch videos online, or download an app. To find time to exercise, I’d recommend bumping it up in your schedule so you can get it out of the way early in the morning before work. You can also find a friend who wants to exercise with you.

6. Prioritize Self Care

If you’re overwhelmed, worn out, and just plain exhausted, make it a point to prioritize self-care. Self-care involves making your health and well-being a priority by listening to and attending to what your body needs long-term.

To start practicing self-care, I recommend creating a list of things that energize and inspire you, as well as things that deplete you. This way you’ll know exactly what brings you joy and motivation, and what drains your energy and happiness. Use this list as a guide to make long-lasting lifestyle changes.

Commit to YOU

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to improve your health without spending tons of money. It all starts with your commitment to a better lifestyle that will reward you physically, mentally, and financially.

Are you ready to become healthier in 2018?

 

This is How Your Financial Health Affects Your Physical Health

We all deal with financial pressure from time to time. Maintaining a budget and making sure that you’re saving money isn’t always easy. But when things start to feel dire, money problems can take a toll on your physical health.

In some situations, the ramifications are obvious. For example, if you can’t afford health insurance, you’re less likely to go to the doctor and this can exacerbate a medical issue. There are also a host of smaller ways that poor finances can affect your physical health. To better deal with your financial stress, it’s first important to recognize how this anxiety can affect you both mentally and physically.

Financial stress and the physical symptoms

According to Debt.org, the average college graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt. The stress that comes with this kind of debt burden is clear, with respondents to a survey by Student Loan Hero listing headaches, muscle tension, upset stomach and insomnia as symptoms. Other physical symptoms of stress include low energy, chest pain, nervousness and shaking, frequent sickness, and dry mouth.

Researchers have also found a link between financial problems and depression and anxiety. These conditions come with their own set of symptoms, including changes in appetite or weight, exhaustion or fatigue, an increased heart rate, restlessness, and sweating.

All of these symptoms can come and go, but if you feel them consistently, consider how your financial health may be impacting you. It may be time to do something about it.

Three ways to get your financial health under control

As with getting into better physical shape, improving your finances isn’t something you can do overnight. The key is to commit to financial wellness for the long-haul. Here are some tips to get started.

1.  Watch your spending

If you feel weighed down by debt, it’s time to take a look at how you spend your money to see if you can make some improvements to your habits.

For example, you can monitor how much you spend on dining out and hitting the bar with friends. You may also want to watch your other expenditures and see if you can trim the fat.

We’re not recommending that you stop spending entirely or deprive yourself of having fun, but taking stock of where you can cut back is the first step to tracking your money. Once you know what you’re spending on and where you need to rein it in, you can then take reasonable steps to start paying yourself first.

2. Boost your income

Getting a second job isn’t always the best way to relieve your stress. At the same time, earning more money to cover your expenses can provide financial relief.

To help make things less stressful, consider turning one of your hobbies into a side business. This way, you’re doing something you enjoy while earning money along the way. The only drawback to this option is that it may take longer to start seeing an income and you may need to invest some money upfront. Some other options that will result in immediate income without the need for start-up funds: Get a part-time job or take advantage of the gig economy. For example, perhaps you have a car and can drive for Uber or Lyft at night or on the weekends. Or, if you love dogs, maybe you can walk dogs for Wag! With a little research, there is no shortage of side gig opportunities.

3. Add some padding

For many people, the worst part about financial stress is the fear of the unknown. If something unexpected happens — say, your car breaks down or the water heater goes out — and you don’t have enough money to pay for it, it can lead to a myriad of other problems.

To avoid this scenario, make it your top priority to start an emergency fund. Even a small fund of $1,000 can make a big difference on a rainy day. And, the fact that you have that extra padding can help you sleep better at night.

Don’t worry if you can’t save a lot. Even if you can only save a few dollars a week, save it. Over time, this will add up and give you the extra cash you need.

Financial health is paramount

How you manage your money is critical to your physical and mental health. What’s more, the stress, anxiety and other byproducts of poor financial health can make it harder to improve your money situation.

Getting on the right track isn’t always easy, but these first steps may give you a little peace of mind as you work to improve your financial situation. Over time, you’ll hopefully feel less anxious and depressed. And, once you’re in a healthier place, you can then strive to achieve your long-term financial goals.

 

7 Bloggers Share How They Stick To New Year’s Health And Wealth Resolutions

Lose weight. Lift weights. Stop drinking soda. Start making more money.

The end of the year is an exciting but conflicting time. For many, this is the time to make a New Year’s resolution and hopefully reinvent yourself for the better. In fact, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, over 40% of Americans make a habit of creating a New Year’s resolution each year.

At the same time, almost 60% of people in their twenties don’t stick to their New Year’s resolutions.

So, how can you stay committed to your resolution? We asked seven bloggers for their best tips on how to stick to your New Year’s Resolution. Read on to see what they have to say.

Commit to a short-term resolution

A New Year’s resolution can seem overwhelming. That’s why Joseph Hogue from Peer Finance 101 recommends setting a short-term goal. “It’s a lot easier to make it a couple of months than to aim for an undefined period.”

Jason Vitug from Phroogal agrees. Instead of committing to something for an entire year (ugh!), he instead does short-term challenges that often end up becoming permanent habits.

“I’ve done a few challenges, like a no spend weekend that turned into a no spend week. I’ve also done a no spend [challenge] on clothing for the entire month of March 2017. And to this day, I haven’t bought any new clothes.”

Set SMART goals

You may have heard of SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Yet, somehow we still forget to make New Year’s resolutions that stick to these guidelines.

“If you haven’t been to the gym in 412 consecutive months, you’re probably putting a lot of undue pressure on yourself to say you’re going to go every single day,” says Mindy Jensen, Community Manager at Bigger Pockets.

Instead, Jensen recommends baby steps and then working your way up. “If you eat lunch out every day, and want to save money, start by bringing lunch once a week, then bump that up to twice a week.”

Find an accountability buddy—no, really!

It’s easy to fall off the rails with your new resolution if you’re the only one who cares. But if you have an accountability buddy, you’re more likely to stick with it since someone else’s success is hinging on yours as well.

Amy Rutherford from Go With Less spends much of her time in early retirement traveling around the globe while housesitting for folks in distant places. Because she’s always on the go, it’s sometimes difficult to rely on a local accountability buddy. But, she’s got a trick up her sleeve that anyone can use.

“When I need an extra boost, I set up a monthly Facebook challenge. There are usually 20-30 participants who opt-in to the private groups. I always do better on the months I initiate a group!”

This year, she’s launching a new Facebook group each month where people can join, state their own goals, and receive support from other members.

Schedule your goal into your daily routine

If your goal is officially on your schedule, it becomes a priority and you’re more likely to get it done, according to Amy Savage Blacklock from Life Zemplified.

Blacklock inks in time for a new healthy habit – like walking during her lunch hour – into her daily schedule to stay successful. “I block off 30 minutes every day in my calendar at work so that I can walk during my lunch hour. This prevents others from scheduling meetings during my time and I stick to my walking goal.”

Another related trick that can work wonders is habit stacking. For example, let’s say you want to start incorporating skin care products into your daily routine so that you don’t look like the Cryptkeeper by the time you turn 40. Setting a regular, consistent, and easy time of day to do this—such as right before bed when you brush your teeth—can make the habit stick better.

Use affirmations

Affirmations are more than just crunchy hocus pocus. This is basically an opportunity to say, write, or think positive things about yourself and your goals. To boot, positive affirmations can actually help you stay on track with your resolutions.

“I have changed so many false beliefs, especially when it comes to self-worth and my abilities. Every morning one of my affirmations includes a positive sentence about how I am valuable,” says Nicole Chammas Rule from the blog Greatest Worth.

“From there my mindset begins to shift and I can feel my confidence rising.”

Rule says it’s important to continue practicing affirmations daily as this is the best way to feel the lasting effects.

Track your progress

One of the most effective ways to stick to your New Year’s resolution is to find a fun way to monitor your goal. You can use apps like Beeminder or HealthyWage to track your progress and give you a financial incentive to complete your goal.

If you prefer a more visual and tangible representation, you can even try an old-fashioned spreadsheet, says Jenny Se from Good Life Better.

“I use a simple spreadsheet that I hang someplace where I can see it. At the end of the day, I give myself fun stickers for each success. These may seem childish, but I don’t think you’re ever too old for gold stars!”

Your New Year’s resolution doesn’t have to end up in the dumpster

Sticking to a New Year’s resolution is hard. But, by following these expert tips and staying committed to your goal, you can start a new healthy habit today. With a bit of perseverance, it may become a long-term habit.

 

Health & Wealth: Why Taking Care of Your Finances is Self Care

If you look up the meaning of self-care, you’ll find many different definitions.

For instance, Wikipedia says self-care maintenance behaviors include “illness prevention, illness behaviors, and proper hygiene.” Dictionary.com, on the other hand, offers what is perhaps a more accurate definition of self-care: “Noun. Care of the self without medical or other professional consultation.”

Although some forms of self-care – like getting more sleep and taking a walk during your lunch hour – won’t cost you any money, other forms of wellness require a small financial investment. So, if you really want to commit to self-care and pay for things that will improve your life, it’s time to take care of your finances as well.

Since health and wealth are interconnected, it makes sense to think of financial health as a form of self-care. Not only will this set you on a path toward a more prosperous future, but you’ll free up funds for other forms of wellness at the same time. Read on to learn more about financial self-care.

Live Within Your Means

There is more to living within your means than simply creating a budget. You must also stick to that budget, cut out superfluous expenses you can’t afford, and make sure you’re set up for success by leveraging resources like apps that can save you money.

What you should be looking at is eliminating excessive extras, like dining out at expensive restaurants on the regular or shopping sprees you can’t afford. By trimming your expenses, you’ll be able to afford the things you truly desire. Plus, you’ll likely reduce your stress since you won’t have to worry as much about affording your lifestyle.

Pay Off Debt

Paying off your debt is a key element of financial self-care. No matter if you’re single, married, or somewhere in between, debt complicates things.

There are several ways you can pay off your debt faster. Take a look:

1. Don’t Create More Debt

For starters, try to use your debit card or cash instead of your credit cards. Since a debit card is tied to your checking account, you can really only spend money that you have – unless you consistently go into overdraft. When you use a credit card, on the other hand, you can easily rack up debt if you don’t pay your balance in full every month. Since credit cards can charge hefty interest rates, the amount you owe will continue to grow and you’ll be saddled with – you guessed it – more debt.

The bottom line: if you use your debit card vs. using a credit card, this will help you from adding to your existing debt.

2. Make a Plan

Create a plan to pay off your debt. One option to consider is called the debt snowball method.

With this method, you’ll list your debts in order  – from those with the smallest to largest balances. Then, you’ll pay only the minimum on all your debts except the one with the smallest balance. On this one, you’ll pay as much as you can until it’s completely paid off. Once this debt is gone, turn your focus to the next debt on the list. Continue to work your way down your list until all of your debts are paid off.

To illustrate this, here’s an example. Say you owe $300 for a car repair, $500 on your credit card, and $5,000 for a student loan. Your debt snowball plan would look like this:

Creditor Total Balance Minimum Payment Payment You Make Monthly
Car repair $300 $25 As much as possible!
Credit card $500 $25 $25
Student Loan $5,000 $100 $100

To come up with the max possible to pay for your car repair bill, you can take on a side hustle when you’re not working at your main job. This way perhaps you can afford to pay $100 per month for your car repair. After it’s paid off in about three months, your new plan may look like this (doesn’t include any interest):

Creditor Total Balance Minimum Payment Payment You Make Monthly
Credit card $425 $25 $125
Student Loan $4,700 $100 $100

The payment you make on your credit card in this example is the minimum payment of $25, plus the $100 payment you were making on your car repair, making your monthly payment $125.

After your credit card is paid off, you’ll add the $125 payment to the $100 minimum payment for your student loan and pay it off faster with a monthly payment of $225. Get it?

Save for Emergencies

Sometimes your daily routine is interrupted when the unexpected happens. For example, your car breaks down and you have to pay a large repair bill. Or, you have to go to the hospital, leaving you with a large medical bill – sometimes even after your insurance company has paid up.

The point is: you can’t predict every expense you’ll have. Therefore, you can’t budget for all of them either. What you can do is start an emergency fund and this way you’ll be prepared to pay for unexpected expenses.

Invest for the Future

Taking care of yourself isn’t only about spending money on things that will help you today. Self-care is also a way to ensure that you’re financially secure in the future.

One way to do this is to start investing in a retirement fund. If you have a 401(k) at work, it’s a good idea to put the maximum allowable amount into this employer-sponsored retirement plan. In 2017, the max contribution is $18,000 and in 2018, it goes up to $18,500. Many employers will also match your contributions dollar-for-dollar, up to 6%. This equals free money for you. To learn more about whether your workplace offers a 401(k) and a match, check with your human resources department.

If your employer does not offer a 401(k), you can still set up an IRA on your own. The contribution limit for an IRA is $5,500 in 2017 and 2018. This doesn’t allow you to save as much as you can with a 401(k), but it’s still a good way to save for your future.

How You Practice Self-Care is Up to You!

Remember that self-care means taking care of your whole self. This includes your finances, as well as your physical and mental health.

Here’s a final tip for you (and it’s free!) The next time someone criticizes you for foregoing buying a fancy new outfit and getting a massage instead, just smile and let it go. Deep down inside you know that you’re taking care of yourself and this is what’s most important.

 

Here’s How to Find the One Thing That Will Improve Your Health and Wealth

Forming new habits are no fun. But, what if there was a way to knock multiple good habits out with one small change to your lifestyle?

That’s the idea behind a keystone habit. Read on to learn exactly what a keystone habit is and how this singular habit can help you achieve optimal health and wealth in the new year.

What is a Keystone Habit?

A keystone habit is one single habit that has multiple positive cascading effects. Rather than shooting for multiple different habits, you can instead choose one keystone habit that will have a dozen positive effects. Here are a 4 examples to get you started:

1. Follow a To-Do List Every Day

We all have things we want to get done every day. But who the heck can remember them all when you can barely keep track of where your car keys are?

When I started following a to-do list, I noticed a ripple effect happening in my life. I became healthier because I remembered to take my dietary supplements every day. I had more money because I was prompted to check on my finances daily, and I earned more money because I remembered to follow up with clients. One small to-do list did all that, and more!

2. Exercise

Exercising has a ton of positive benefits. You can decrease your medical bills by staying healthier, and spend less on groceries since you’ll probably be more conscious of how much you eat (who wants to work off all those extra calories, anyway?) Exercise can  also make you happier because it releases feel-good, pain-relieving chemicals in your brain called endorphins. Plus, despite spending more energy on exercise, you’ll ultimately feel more well-rested because your sleep will improve.

3. Replace Soda With Water

Today Americans are drinking 25% less soda pop than 20 years ago. Still, most people are probably drinking more than they should.

Replacing soda with water not only saves you money in medical and dental bills, but you’ll also save money by not buying soda in the first place! For me, drinking water is easier anyway. I just fill my water bottle right from the tap whenever I get thirsty. No more lugging heavy two-liter soda bottles up the stairs to my second-floor apartment.

4. Cook at Home

This keystone habit might sound like a bit of a drag at first, especially if you’re the type of person who lives by the motto, “I don’t live to cook. I cook to live.” But stick with me.

Cooking at home saves a ton of money over buying take out food each night. It also saves time. Have you ever calculated how many minutes it actually takes you to go out, get food, and bring it home for everyone else to eat? Plus, you’ll eat healthier and save on medical bills over time (are you seeing a trend here?). It can even be fun to cook with family. Even I—a former hardcore “I hate cooking” devotee—can admit that cooking is sometimes enjoyable.

How to Find Your Keystone Habit

I’ve outlined some great keystone habits above, but the truth is that you need to find the best habit for you and your individual situation. To get started, make a list of all the good habits you’d like to start. Maybe it’s meditating, fasting, reading, quitting smoking, getting more sleep, or any number of other things.

Next, go through each good habit on your list and count out the potential secondary benefits of each habit. For example, getting more sleep can:

  • Make you less crabby
  • Improve relationships
  • Make you more productive during the day
  • Reduce medical bills from stress
  • Increase your happiness

Finally, choose the keystone habit that meets the following criteria: a) you think you can keep it up long-term (habit stacking can help you with this), and b) has the most beneficial secondary habits.

By following these two criteria in choosing your own keystone habit, you can make sure that it’s something you’ll stick to. After all, 2018 will come with plenty of challenges. It’s time to plan your game now so you can come out ahead in the new year!

 

How the New High Blood Pressure Definition Affects You — & Your Money

Almost half of the U.S. adult population has high blood pressure under a new guideline set by heart experts. People with blood pressure readings of 130/80 or higher will now be considered to have the condition. The old threshold was 140/90.

That means about 14% more people will be diagnosed with high blood pressure, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology announced Monday. The greatest impact will be among younger people. The incidence of high blood pressure is expected to triple for men under 45 and double for women under 45, according to a report on the guidelines published in two academic journals.

The guidelines call for doctors to intervene earlier to stop further increases in blood pressure and complications from hypertension. These are the first new blood pressure guidelines in 14 years.

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High blood pressure is a potentially deadly condition. After smoking, it’s linked to the second-highest number of preventable heart disease and stroke deaths. Blood pressure levels between 130-139/80-89 have double the risk of cardiovascular complications compared to normal blood pressure levels, said Dr. Paul K. Whelton, lead author of the new guidelines.

“We want to be straight with people — if you already have a doubling of risk, you need to know about it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you need medication, but it’s a yellow light that you need to be lowering your blood pressure, mainly with non-drug approaches.”

Elevated blood pressure can damage blood vessels. The risk increases as you get into your 40s, Whelton said.

What to do about high blood pressure

Blood pressure can sometimes rise in a medical setting, but not in everyday life, so the guidelines recommend home blood pressure monitoring. Working to lower high blood pressure can help stave off health threats like heart attack and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends a few changes people can make to control their blood pressure:

  • Eat a well-balanced, low-salt diet including lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.
  • Limit alcohol. No more than two drinks a day for men and no more than one drink a day for women.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts extra strain on your heart.
  • Take your medications properly. Listen to your physician’s recommendations.

High blood pressure & your money

Believe it or not, the new blood pressure guidelines could impact your finances. Life insurers use health information to determine how risky it is to cover a given customer — and how much to charge them. Blood pressure is one of the factors they look at.

It’s not clear when or if insurance carriers will adjust their guidelines for blood pressure based on the new research, said Emily Strobelberger, operations team lead for Policygenius.

“But if they do, it will likely affect rate classes and pricing,” she said.

Let’s say someone with a blood pressure of 142/82 qualifies for the best-class life insurance with the lowest premiums. If insurers adjust their best-class guidelines to reflect the new guideline of 130/80, that person may no longer qualify for the best-class rate.

“We can’t say for sure if carriers will adopt these new guidelines, but if they do, I think a lot of people could be impacted,” Strobelberger said.

Steven Weisbart, senior vice president and chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute, expects life insurers to adjust quickly. Insurance companies act on real-world risk, and the research behind the new guidelines shows a link between lower blood pressure readings and lower death rates. So for anyone whose blood pressure is on the border of the new guidelines who’s considering life insurance, it may be wise to act now before carriers adjust their standards.

“In effect, right now if your blood pressure is on the margins of the new guidelines, I’d say life insurance is on sale for you,” Weisbart said.

Have a certain health condition? We can help you find the best life insurance company for you here.


This article originally appeared on Policy Genius.
Image: monkeybusinessimages

 

Most Americans Don’t Know Basic Obamacare Facts

Healthcare has dominated many news cycles over the last few years, thanks to the 2016 presidential election and Congress’ subsequent attempts to undo the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

But the barrage of headlines hasn’t exactly given the public a better understanding of our current law of the land. According to Policygenius’ latest healthcare literacy survey, 78% of Americans can’t identify the essential health benefits insurers must cover under the ACA. And a staggering majority (76%) have no idea when this year’s federal Open Enrollment — set to kick off on November 1 and end December 15 — is taking place.

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Our latest survey reinforces the overarching finding of our 2016 health insurance literacy survey: Not nearly enough people understand health insurance. Last year, when asked to define four core health insurance terms — deductible, copay, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximum — only 4% of Americans could correctly define all four.

“After our last survey, we were surprised at the lack of understanding when it came to general health insurance concepts,” says Policygenius CEO Jennifer Fitzgerald. “This year, we learned that confusion extends to Obamacare, which is worrying for the more than ten million people who have health insurance thanks to the ACA.”

Political uncertainty leads to…uncertainty

The confusion extends beyond dates and details: Nearly one in five Americans (over 18%) are confused as to whether or not the ACA is still the law of the land. (It is.) And asked differently, over 13% of respondents say they thought Obamacare had been repealed.

Those responses seem counterintuitive, given how often healthcare made the news in 2016 and 2017. But it’s possible so much attention only caused confusion. There have been five variations of bills intended to replace, or simply repeal, the ACA introduced by Republican lawmakers since March 2017. And, in the middle, Bernie Sanders released a “Medicare for all” plan.

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“It’s not unreasonable for a casual observer of healthcare news to think the ACA has actually been overturned,” Fitzgerald said. “And, in fact, under the Trump administration, many things related to Obamacare have changed.”

Take federal Open Enrollment, for instance: It’s running half as long as it did last year when it ended in January. Adding to the confusion, some state-run exchanges, like California and New York, have extended enrollment periods.

In early October, the Department of Health and Human services rolled back provisions guaranteeing healthcare coverage for birth control. Shortly after, President Donald Trump announced plans to stop paying long-contentious cost-sharing reduction subsidies to insurers, upending state marketplaces at the last minute and causing premiums to skyrocket for some people.

To top it off, these changes – or lack thereof – aren’t being communicated broadly to people.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration slashed the ACA’s advertising budget 90%, from $100 million to $10 million. It reportedly defended the budget cutbacks by saying most people already know about the ACA.

Grassroots advertising efforts to make people aware of Open Enrollment have cropped up in the wake the Trump administration’s decision. Still, “outside efforts fall well short of what could be done with the full advertising force of the federal government,” Fitzgerald said.“The seemingly up-in-the-air status of the ACA, and the lack of outreach by the federal government are making Open Enrollment ripe for confusion.”

If you don’t know about health insurance, you really don’t know about health insurance

It is clear that a majority of Americans don’t know when they’re able to shop for health insurance. However, as we dug deeper into the data we realized that people who don’t know the basics of health insurance really don’t know about health insurance.

There’s something to say about some people not understanding that Obamacare and the ACA are the same things, but more importantly, we see that people who don’t know that Obamacare is still in effect are less likely to know about the protections it provides.

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People who think Obamacare was repealed in 2017 are:

  • Less likely to know children can stay on their parents’ plan until they’re 26 years old (37%, compared to 60.7% who know Obamacare wasn’t repealed)
  • More likely to mistakenly believe that pre-existing conditions are not covered by ACA plans (20.8% vs 8%)
  • Less likely to know that maternity and newborn care is one of the ten essential benefits required by the ACA (30.7% vs 56.5%)

What’s concerning about these findings is that if people aren’t aware of what their health insurance covers and what it doesn’t, that could lead to them to make the wrong choices about the right coverage for themselves and their family.

Party affiliation matters

While overall sentiment toward Obamacare has improved in recent months, it’s still true that Democrats and Independents are more likely than Republicans to favor the law. But does party affiliation also affect an understanding of the law?

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Turns out, yes — to a degree. While knowledge of when Open Enrollment runs is uniform across party lines – about a quarter of Independents know the correct time period, followed by Democrats and Republicans at around 24% and 23%, respectively – overall, Democrats, are more likely to know details about ACA benefits. That includes:

  • Accurate understanding of coverage provisions, such as whether or not health history can impact plan cost and limits on lifetime benefits (Democrats: 45%; Independent: 37%; Republicans: 35%)
  • Correctly identifying the ten essential health benefits (Democrats: 29%; Independent: 21%; Republicans: 18%)
  • Knowing that the ACA is still the law of the land (Democrats: 87%; Independent: 76%; Republicans: 82%)

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“Democrats and Independents are more likely to fight for the law — and more likely to know what they are fighting for, and what provisions would be lost if the ACA was repealed,” Fitzgerald said.

Spreading the health

Health insurance isn’t top of mind for most people. You can usually only enroll in a plan once a year, a majority of people have health insurance through their employer, and if there’s a medical emergency you’re not really thinking about your insurance.

But it’s important to know the details of your healthcare plan. It could mean the difference between getting the care you need and facing bankruptcy due to medical bills.

“There are resources out there for people to get information,” says Fitzgerald, “whether it’s insurance companies and brokers, state exchanges, groups like the Kaiser Family Foundation, or the grassroots campaigns popping up on social media. Considering the lack of support from the federal government, it’s never been more important for people to educate themselves – and for resources to be made available to them.”

Shoppers can visit Policygenius for shopping tips and the most up-to-date information on premiums and insurers in your state, and the latest ACA news.


This article originally appeared on PolicyGenius.
Image: megaflopp

 

Being Frugal Doesn’t Mean You Have to Hate Life

When it comes to saving money, you’ve most likely heard stories about cheapskates who go to extremes to save a buck. You know, the couple who sold their worldly possessions to live in a van to save rent. The guy who, in an effort to crush his debt in record time, dumpster dives for his meals. Or the miserly couple who never go out and have fun because they don’t want to spend money on parking.

They all seem miserable, living deprived existences, quibbling over saving a few cents and denying themselves of the joys of life.

These extremists give the rest of us frugal types a bad rap. Yet, as someone who has been somewhat obsessed with saving money, I’ve learned that being frugal doesn’t mean missing out. Quite the opposite. It actually can be a lot of fun.

Here’s how you can approach frugality so it doesn’t mean hating life:

Cultivate an abundant mindset

This is probably the first and most important step. If you try to save money without adopting a mindset of abundance, you will feel deprived. You may, in turn, lapse back into your old ways, or go on a damaging spending spree. On the other hand, a new positive mindset may make you feel happy – without the need to purchase material things.

I let go of the notion that I need a fancy car, or expensive designer clothes to be happy. Instead, I try to make the most of what I already have. By doing this, I recognize that I have more than I need.

Go on a purge

When I went on a massive purge last year, I saw just how much stuff I can do without. That, coupled with the fact that going minimalist can be more expensive than you think, made me think twice about all the stuff I accumulate. In particular, purging is tedious and I certainly don’t want to deal with getting rid of stuff all over again.

Get creative

For me, frugality is enjoyable because it is all about getting creative with your resources. How many uses can you come up with an empty spaghetti jar? And what are some hacks to save money on cable, or groceries, or everyday expenses?

Gamifying saving makes things even more enjoyable. For instance, during a staycation I’ll try to find the best breakfast burrito for under six dollars – turning frugality into a game. And, I enjoy participating in my local Time Bank, which is a collective of people who barter services and goods for time.

Enlist the participation of your friends

Clothing swaps, using discount codes at restaurants, and convos about free and fun events around town are all things you can do to extend your frugal ways – while also help your pals save money. However, there is a fine line between forcing your ways on your friends and politely making suggestions. I always aim to do the latter and express that my frugal lifestyle works for me. With that, I typically only offer up suggestions when asked.

Celebrate your frugal wins

Sure, we all have frugal fails — think of the botched discounted dental work that ended up costing more in the long run, or trying to go without internet for a few weeks to save some money (true story.) But, hopefully, you’ll have plenty of frugal wins to celebrate.

For instance, I love talking about how I snagged shoes for a dollar at a yard sale (yes, you read that correctly,) or how I managed to cook a week’s worth of healthy meals for under $30. When you’re proud, others will notice and maybe they’ll want to jump on your frugal bandwagon.

Plan for “safe and frivolous” spending

Not too long ago I was on a call with financial therapist Amanda Clayman to help her with some research. I learned that while I am extremely prudent with my savings, I’m also wary of my financial outlook.

As you might’ve guessed, I have trouble spending money. Clayman recommended I plan for “safe fun” with my money, which means saving up for some frivolous spending. This can mean a weekend getaway, or splurging on a fancy road bike I’ve had my eye on. By planning ahead for “guilt-free” spending, I won’t jeopardize my savings goals.

As you can see, being frugal can be a lot of fun. Instead of feeling deprived, it’s a way to infuse creativity and resourcefulness into your daily life. It’s also a great way to feel good about what you have. To me, this is what being frugal is all about.

 

How Eating Healthier Can Help You Make More Money

Many people choose to eat healthier as one of their resolutions every single year. While most fall off the bandwagon, some go above and beyond achieving their fitness goals. Those who lose the willpower to eat healthier say they do so because they can’t find motivation.

So, what if I told you that eating healthier can help you make more money? If that’s not good motivation, I don’t know what is. Here’s why good health can equate to more wealth:

You’ll Have More Energy

When you start eating healthier, not only will you get a better night’s rest, but you’ll also be able to wake up with more energy before. Have you ever woken up in a groggy and grumpy mood? It could be related to your diet. If you eat fatty foods like fried chicken, it can be harder to fall asleep.

Now, eating healthier may not be a cure-all for sleeping issues, but it can certainly help. If you are able to get a good night’s sleep and wake up well rested, you will most likely save time throughout your day. You won’t have to stop for as many coffee breaks (and then bathroom breaks) and you won’t spend that extra 20 minutes in bed “just to wake up”.

You’ll Be More Productive

So, now that you’ve had a peaceful and uninterrupted night’s sleep, you are up and ready to start your day. Having a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner (with a few snacks if you are still hungry) can help you carry your energy throughout the day. If you want to make more money, the typical ways to do that are working harder or work smarter. Eating healthier can allow you to do both.

Not only will eating healthier increase your energy, but it will also increase your productivity. Did you know that “eating unhealthily is linked with a 66 percent increased risk of loss of productivity,” according to new research? Think about how much you could get done every day after making a simple change in your eating habits.

You Could Prevent Expensive Health Issues

While eating healthier may not cure all ailments that you might get one day, it could decrease your chance of disorders and diseases including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, and even cancer.

If you don’t have to spend a lot of money on medication and doctor’s appointments in the future, you could put that money right into your pocket. Sure, it doesn’t mean you are making money, but it is saving you money, and that’s still a win for you. On average, people who suffer from diseases like type 2 diabetes spend about $13,700 in health care costs every year. Think about what you could do with an extra $13,000 in your pocket every year! If you invested that instead of spending it on medication and doctor’s visits, you could build a significant nest egg.

You Won’t Take As Many Sick Days

Another great benefit of eating healthier is that you will most likely avoid sick days. Taking your vitamins and eating your fruits and veggies boost your immune system, and they also provide you with the proper vitamins and minerals that you need. While many people may suffer from flu or other similar viruses throughout the year, you could be working and making more money.

Also, remember that when you aren’t sick, you don’t have to go to the doctor as often or buy over the counter medications to fight your cold. Less sick days is a win all around.

You Could Be Rewarded

Did you know that many health insurance agencies and employers reward people that eat healthily and exercise? Even if you are self-employed, you could still find a way to make more money just by eating healthier.

The best way to see if your health plan or employer offers rewards for eating healthier is to ask them or look at their website. Many employers will offer this benefit when you are hired or after a certain time frame, and your health insurance most likely included a pamphlet of some sort when you first signed on. I know that my health insurance last year offered a small refund if you went to the gym twice a week.

If you are self-employed, sign up for benefits like the Walgreens balance rewards program, or through a website like Achievemint to earn points that you can then redeem for gift cards. Easy money makers!

You’ll Save Money On Food

Saving money isn’t technically the same thing as making it, but eating healthier could still save you a small fortune on your food bill. If you normally eat out a lot or buy a ton of unhealthy food items, you may be spending more than if you were to buy filling fruits and veggies.

If you are able to cut your food costs by eating healthier, you could take the money you saved and invest it, or use it to start a side hustle or grow your business. Or, you could even throw the money into an emergency fund just in case you need it. Either way, the savings you get from eating healthier could be a huge benefit.

You’ll Be Happier

Healthy eating increases your energy, productivity, wellness, and can also boost your mood. Research shows that eating healthy items like fruits, veggies, and lean protein can keep you from developing disorders like depression and anxiety. In return, being happier can boost your productivity, stamina, and even help you gain more success.

Being healthy and happy in the workplace, and even in your personal life, will help you have more meaningful relationships, better sleep, and also improved health. See how it all plays together? And that’s just the beginning!

Studies suggest that happiness is the key to a successful career and that happy people tend to make more than unhappy people.

So, now that you know your diet is an integral part of your health and happiness, why wouldn’t you want to eat healthier? Hopefully, these tips may be just the push you need to get started.