7 Ways to Improve Your Health and Finances

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By Cameron Huddleston for

You know healthful habits can help you improve your physical and mental well-being, ward off chronic diseases and even prolong your life. But did you know they can also help you save money?

That’s right: Taking steps to improve your health can also improve your finances. In fact, the savings can be substantial and long term. Here are seven ways to improve your health — and finances.

1. Stop Sitting All Day

If you’re as sedentary as the average working American, then you’re spending more than half of your waking life sitting. Even if you do physical activity, prolonged sitting can increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes and, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a medical journal.

To overcome inactivity, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends taking walks, using public transportation and even getting up from your desk at work to speak with colleagues — rather than emailing them — as ways to improve your health. Of course, walking rather than driving saves you money. But the real savings come from lower health care costs.

Average health care costs for someone who has one or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, is five times greater than for someone who doesn’t have a chronic condition, according to the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease. So take a break from work and walk around the block, or get a standing desk to help get your blood flowing.

2. Participate in Your Workplace Wellness Program

About half of employers have workplace wellness programs to encourage employees to be healthier, according to a study by Rand Corporation. The study found that employees who participated in programs saw an improvement in smoking behavior, weight control and exercise frequency.

The benefits go beyond better health, though. Your employer might offer financial incentives to participate in its program. More than one-third of large employers with at least 200 workers offer lower health insurance premiums, lower deductibles, gift cards or cash as incentives to workplace wellness program participants, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

3. Eat Less Meat

Another way to improve your finances and health: Cut back on meat. “Studies do show that people who eat less meat tend to be leaner and less likely to gain weight than people with higher meat intakes,” said Kristen Gradney, director of nutrition and metabolic services at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and owner of a nutrition consulting firm. Numerous studies have also shown that switching to a vegetarian diet can lower cholesterol levels, she said.

Plus, you can cut your grocery bill by replacing meat sources of protein with beans and vegetables, or chicken. A can of beans usually costs less than $1. Boneless chicken breast costs, on average, $3.37 per pound, according as of July 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Compare those costs to those of typical red meats:

4. Quench Your Thirst With Water

You’ve probably heard on countless occasions that you should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, but that rule isn’t supported by hard evidence, according to Mayo Clinic. In fact, water needs vary person to person. And you also probably know that water isn’t the only way to stay hydrated – other beverages can do the trick, too.

But the truth is, water is your best bet for hydration because it’s calorie-free and inexpensive, according to the Mayo Clinic. Considering households spend an average of $850 a year on soda and drinking just one soda every day can add 10 pounds of extra weight in a year, according to Drink Water First, your wallet and waistline will thank you for sticking to water. Just skip bottled water, which costs 240 to 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

5. Drink Less Alcohol

Various studies have found that moderate consumption of alcohol actually helps your heart. However, if you drink too much, those benefits are outweighed by an increased risk for high blood pressure, liver damage, certain types of cancer and other problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. So what’s a moderate amount? One glass of wine a day for women and men older than 65 and two for men 65 and younger.

Limiting — or eliminating — your alcohol consumption will also save you money. Consumers spend an average of $445 a year on alcoholic beverages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Cutting back or eliminating your alcohol consumption can save you several hundreds of dollars every year.

6. Exercise With Friends

Exercise is an easy way to improve your health. Not only does physical activity help you control your weight and combat chronic health conditions, it can also make you feel happier, relieve stress and give you more energy. Exercise can also lead to higher wages because it boosts productivity, according to a study published in the Journal of Labor Research.

You don’t have to join a pricey gym to exercise. Instead, join a running or biking club, or walk with friends. Research shows it is easier to stick with a plan when you have support, Gradney said. So by working out with others, “not only do you get exercise, but you also get free accountability,” she said.

7. Quit Smoking

You probably don’t need to be told that smoking is bad for you — it’s an accepted fact. But if the warnings that smoking can lead to lung disease, heart disease and cancer haven’t convinced you to quit, maybe the high cost of your habit will.

The average price for a pack of cigarettes is $6.24, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. So if you have a pack-a-day habit, you’re spending nearly $2,300 a year on cigarettes. Plus, smokers pay $35 for related health costs per pack they spoke, according to the American Cancer Society — which adds up to almost $13,000 a year if you smoke a pack a day.

Smoking also dramatically increases the amount you pay for life insurance. For example, a 40-year-old man who smokes but is otherwise healthy will pay $1,500 a year for a 20-year, $500,000 life insurance policy. A nonsmoker will pay just $350 a year, said Byron Udell, founder and CEO of life insurance brokerage firm AccuQuote.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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