You only have to open a magazine, turn on the TV or log onto the internet these days, to be bombarded with self-improvement adverts telling you which areas of your life you need to ‘correct’ – usually with the help of a product somebody is trying to sell you.
With so many conflicting messages telling you to sort out everything from your hair, body, health, fitness, fashion, hobbies… it’s overwhelming to know where to start and difficult to tell which areas are truly important, as opposed to which products have the biggest marketing budget.
If you know you want to make some positive changes in your life but don’t know where to focus your efforts, it makes sense to start with the important ones – changes that could actually prolong your life and reduce your risk of ill health.
So, which are the parts that really matter? How can you tell what’s important as opposed to what somebody wants you to believe is important just because it helps them sell you products?
One unusual but reliable place to look for answers might come from a very unexpected source – your life insurance application! You might be thinking ‘You would say that, you sell life insurance’ but bear with us….
It stands to reason – life insurance policies are calculated partly on your life expectancy, so the elements the insurance company will want to know about you, in order to make an informed and accurate decision on their risk, are the elements that are proven through research and experience to make a difference to your life.
If you’re looking for ideas of where to focus your efforts and take an overview of how healthy your life is at present, these are the areas worth considering. The added bonus is making significant, long-term positive changes in these areas could result in lower life insurance premiums.
While there are many different elements to an application for life insurance, there are several that, crucially, you can exercise some control over yourself:
Focus: BMI (Body Mass Index)
Why does it affect insurance?
Your BMI is a calculation based on the ratio of your height to weight, and is used to estimate if you are a healthy weight. According to the World Health Organisation, a healthy body weight is a BMI between 18 and 25, 25-30 is overweight and more than 30 is classed as obese.
Insurance companies look at your BMI to try and take an educated guess at how likely you are to claim early on your life insurance policy. It’s also one of the main things considered when you apply for Critical Illness Cover or an Income Protection policy as being overweight is a huge health risk, linked with increased chances of having a heart attack, cancer or diabetes. Excess weight can also cause musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritis.
Although different insurers have different minimum and maximum BMI limits, a high BMI will usually mean you have to pay more for your policy. BMI has increasingly become an important factor for insurers in the last decade as more is understood about the greater medical risks associated with obesity.
Luckily, there are things you can do to improve your BMI score. Lowering your BMI means losing weight which, although it takes effort, you can achieve through adjustments to your diet and activity levels.
What can I do about it?
- According to the NHS, to stay healthy or to improve health, adults need to do two types of physical activity each week: aerobic and strength exercises, so it’s important to include both in your weekly activities.
- If you haven’t exercised much recently, choose a low-impact activity you enjoy doing, like brisk walking or water aerobics, and gradually increase the intensity as your fitness improves. By choosing something you enjoy, you’re more likely to keep doing it regularly and it won’t feel like such an effort.
- To help stay motivated as you lose weight, look for other indicators that you’re going in the right direction. Other markers to look for are things like a smaller waist size and the ability to work out for longer or increase intensity.
- Don’t just go for a fad diet – it has probably taken months or even years for your weight to creep up, so realistically it will take a while to decrease as well.
- You can use an online BMI calculator to keep track of your progress and help you stay on track. This one is from the NHS.
Why does it affect insurance?
Insurers believe that smokers are more likely to claim early on their life insurance policy because of lower life expectancy. There are also a long list of diseases and health problems associated with smoking – like lung cancer and heart disease – due to the addictive drug nicotine and many other harmful chemicals.
Insurers take these health risks so seriously that premiums can be up to a third more, or even double, for smokers compared to non-smokers.
It’s worth being aware that many insurers will classify you as a “smoker” even if you don’t think of yourself that way – they don’t distinguish between people who smoke several packets a day and those who only have the occasional cigarette. If you have used any tobacco or nicotine replacement products in the last 12 months, you will be classed as a smoker.
Thankfully, quitting smoking is one of the most effective ways to save money on life insurance – and, obviously, lower your risk of health problems.
It’s worth pointing out that you will need to have not used any nicotine products for 12 months before you will be considered a ‘non-smoker’ in the eyes of the insurance company, and that includes products like nicotine patches or e-cigarettes.
What can I do about it?
- If you want to quit smoking, it might be worth talking to your GP for support – GPs can often refer you to a ‘Stop Smoking’ clinic and offer other practical ways to help you.
- There are national helplines and local groups available to help keep you motivated and encourage you to stay on track when you are craving nicotine.
- Remember that nicotine is physically addictive, so willpower on it’s own might not be enough to stop you smoking – make sure you can access support and help to give you a boost when you are struggling.
- Have a plan for how you will deal with situations where you usually crave a cigarette, for example when you’re stressed or at a party. Think about how you’ll deal with those situations in advance.
- Cravings can last for around 5 minutes so doing some exercise – even a five-minute walk or stretch – can cut cravings and may help your brain produce anti-craving chemicals
Focus: Alcohol Habits
Why it affects insurance?
You’ll probably be asked about how much and how often you drink, when you apply for life insurance, because excessive drinking can lead to serious chronic conditions like liver disease, depression, stroke, dementia and cardiovascular conditions.
Even if you don’t see yourself as somebody who has an issue with alcohol, insurers may be concerned that your health will suffer if you consume more than your recommended weekly intake of alcohol and, as a result, you’ll probably face paying higher life insurance premiums.
Official guidelines say women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, and men 21 units – with one unit equivalent to half a pint of beer, a shot of whisky or a small glass of wine.
Drinking more than that may be “hazardous” to your health, even if it doesn’t seem like a lot so it’s important to keep a check on how much you’re consuming if you want to make sure it doesn’t lead to health problems in the future.
What can I do about it?
- A glass or two of wine over dinner might not seem like a lot, but unless you are measuring the amount you pour into the glass, you’re probably drinking more than you realise so make sure you keep an eye on the amounts
- Consider buying smaller glasses to make sure you’re not drinking larger measures without really noticing.
- If you think you’re getting into bad habits, why not try picking a day or two a week where you won’t drink at all to stop it becoming part of your daily routine
- Increase your own self-awareness of whether your relationship with alcohol is healthy or not, by taking some of the tests on the www.drinkaware.co.uk website to get an objective view
- Drinking a soft drink in between each alcoholic drink when you’re out will slow down your drinking and mean you drink less over the course of an evening.
While the commercially-driven self-improvement industry will continue to bombard you with new products and opinionated advice on how to get fitter/slimmer/healthier or just all-round ‘better’, the advertising will always be driven by the latest all-new, desirable ‘widget’ (whatever that may be) that the manufacturers want you to buy.
Making changes to bring your BMI, smoking and alcohol habits under control doesn’t have to cost much at all and will go a long way to improving not only your current quality of life, but also the risk of developing serious, potentially critical, health issues in the years to come.
The added bonus? Lower life insurance premiums, resulting in more money in your pocket.
And whether you choose to spend that extra cash on the next all-new, shiny, self-improvement ‘widget’…? Well, that’s entirely up to you!