Guide to cutting unhealthy habits for a longer life while saving on your life insurance
What are your bad habits really doing to you? Are you shaving years off your life by letting them slip into your day to day routine? Finder.com.au has put together a quirky infographic piece on “Are Your Bad Habits Slowly Killing You?”. While many of the habits depicted have been shown to lead to high blood pressure in adults, the infographic explores a range of habits that many are guilty of and delves into the possible impacts that these can have on our health and life expectancy. Finally, the piece hopes to offer some steps to a healthier life via a list of daily guilt-free pleasures.
Looking after our bodies is not just beneficial to our own wellbeing but also to our hip pockets. A key component of taking out life insurance or income protection is how underwriters assess each applicant's pre-existing health conditions. This is determined by a whole range of factors including:
- Whether they smoke
- Level of alcohol consumption
- Medical issues they have suffered
- Heart disease or diabetes
- Ongoing chest pains
- Lung or kidney disorders
The premiums payable for life cover are determined by these factors as they will reflect the level of risk the applicant is deemed to carry.
What exactly is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure or hypertension is an increase in the force against the walls of arteries as blood passes through them. This means that the walls are constantly receiving too much pressure, causing the heart to pump harder. Chronic cases are diagnosed as hypertension which can lead to damaged organs, kidney failure, aneurysms, heart failure, strokes and heart attacks.
Hypertension can be categorised into two different groups: primary and secondary.
Over 90% of people that suffer from high blood pressure have primary hypertension. There is no singular identifiable cause and it tends to develop gradually over the person's life.
Lifestyle factors that can contribute to primary hypertension:
- Smoking: Causes blood vessels to narrow and reduce oxygen intake causing the body's heart to work faster, resulting in an increase in blood pressure.
- Excessive alcohol intake: Can result in higher systolic blood pressure than non-drinkers.
- Overweight/obese: People with excess body fat are more likely to develop hypertension than those of a regular weight.
- Lack of exercise: Physical inactivity can lead to hypertension.
- Family history: Past studies have shown that people with close family members that suffer from hypertension can have a greater chance of developing the condition in their life.
- High salt intake: A diet consisting of high levels of salt can lead to high blood pressure.
- High fat diet: Diets with high levels of saturated fats and trans fats can lead to high blood pressure.
- Stress: Studies have shown that people who suffer from mental stress are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
Secondary high blood pressure affects roughly one in 20 people with high blood pressure and can be traced to an identifiable cause, usually renal disease or an endocrine condition. Secondary hypertension usually causes a higher degree of blood pressure than essential blood pressure.
Causes of secondary hypertension
- Kidney disease: An inability of the kidneys to remove unwanted waste products can greatly affect one's blood pressure and vice versa.
- Endocrine disease: Endocrine conditions including Cushing’s syndrome, Conn’s syndrome and hyperthyroidism can all lead to increased blood pressure.
- Narrowing of aorta: Aortic coarctation (narrowing of the major blood vessel to the heart) can cause excessive blood pressure.
- Medication: Certain medication including contraception, cough and cold medications, migraine headache medications and weight loss drugs can all potentially lead to an increase in secondary hypertension.
- Illegal drugs: Recreational drugs including cocaine and methamphetamine can lead to an increase in high blood pressure for regular users.
- Pregnancy: Pregnant women have a greater risk of suffering from high blood pressure than women of the same age that are not pregnant. Pregnancy can lead to pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure and an increased level of protein in urine of pregnant women) which can be life threatening if left untreated.
Everyday habits that may increase the risk of hypertension
- Bad posture: Poor posture can cause back pain which can have a damaging effect on your spine and rib cage and cause potential harm to your lungs and heart. Frequent leaning and hunching can affect lung capacity by as much as 30%, causing an increase in blood pressure as it is forced to work harder to regulate blood flow.
- Eating too quickly: Men that eat their meals too quickly are 84% more likely to become overweight and women are just over twice as likely. Obesity has been recognised as a key cause of hypertension.
- Not getting enough sleep: Sleep deprivation can lead to heart disease and obesity.
- Overworking: Studies have shown that people who work more than 10 hours a day are 60% more likely to develop heart disease or have an attack than those that work the standard 7 hours a day.
- Smoking: Smoking has been cited as a direct cause of hypertension and is estimated to reduce life expectancy by 10 years.
- Red meat-rich diet: A diet consisting of too much red meat can raise cholesterol and increase blood pressure levels.
- Stress: A high stress workplace or lifestyle can greatly increase the level of high blood pressure in people.
Office life and high blood pressure
Unfortunately, current working environments for many are not very forgiving in reducing high blood pressure among adults. Many office settings now see workers sit for more than 7 hours a day, often causing poor posture, obesity and stress. A study carried out by researchers from the University of Western Sydney, Australia and Kansas State University on middle-aged Australians at one time found that:
- Sitting for more than four hours a day increased the risk of being diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, diabetes and blood pressure.
- When these illnesses were examined separately, research showed that sitting for more than six hours was associated with an increase in diabetes, and sitting for more than eight hours was associated with high blood pressure.
While high blood pressure can not solely be linked to the number of hours we spend sitting down, there is a growing body of evidence to show that a lifestyle containing little regular physical activity and a poor diet is a contributing factor.
Assessment of applicants in life insurance underwriting
Life insurance underwriting is a process where an insurance provider will determine the level of risk that an applicant carries and whether they can provide them with cover and at what price. It is a process of assessing the person to be insured’s application based on information that is contained in their policy. Details may include:
- Details of any existing or previous insurance that they have
- Details of their occupation and income. This is more relevant for income protection
- Their place of residence and countries they have travelled to
- Details of their medical history
- Lifestyle details
- Sexual behaviour
- Drug use
- Whether they smoke
- Alcohol consumption
- Participation in any dangerous hobbies/sports
Based on the insurer or the information provided, the applicant may be required to undertake further medical examination or questionnaires. All of this information will be collated by the insurer to determine the applicant's mortality rate.
High blood pressure assessment
If the applicant suffers from accelerated hypertension, the underwriter will need to obtain further medical information and if under treatment, submit a high blood pressure questionnaire.
There may be extra loading applied if a prescribed treatment for high blood pressure is not complied with or if there is other cardiovascular impairment.
Assessment of smoking
An underwriter will determine the applicant's tobacco intake and if there is any indication of a below standard mortality rate. A smoker will automatically pay a higher premium than a non-smoker on account of all of the health risks. An insurance provider will usually require a medical examination to assess if there are signs of circulatory or heart disease.
I used to smoke but have since quit
If the applicant was a heavy smoker but has since quit, the underwriter may enquire into the reasons for them giving it up. They may have been required to quit following a heart attack or other smoking-related condition.
Let's consider the average cost of life cover for a smoker and non-smoker
Smoker vs non-smoker premiums
Life cover to take out: $500,000
Average cost of cover: $31 per month
Life Cover to Take Out: $500,000
Average Cost of Cover: $57.69 per month
It is possible for someone who has quit to have their premiums adjusted to reflect a non-smoker status. Most insurers will require the participant to have stopped smoking for a period of 12 months.
Assessment of diabetes
An insurance underwriter will require a medical examiner's report for sufferers of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The applicant may be required to submit a diabetic questionnaire and chest X-ray depending on the level of cover being applied for.
An insurance underwriter will look to assess how controlled the applicant's diabetes is. This is determined by considering:
- If it is type 1 or type 2 diabetes: A type 1 diabetic is generally considered to carry greater risk as it more serious over a longer period of time and can be difficult to treat.
- Age of diagnosis: The age that the applicant was diagnosed can play an important role in how they are assessed. Those that developed diabetes younger in life are often more likely to experience complications in later years.
- Family medical history: There may be additional loading applied if the applicant has a family member that has died from cardiovascular-renal disease.
- Alcohol intake: Presence of excessive alcohol intake may cause an increase in premiums.
- Control: Control of glucose levels will be assessed.
- Medical complications: Underwriter will assess any medical complications occurring in conjunction. For example, high blood pressure occurring with diabetes would be treated as a serious condition.
Assessment of obesity
Obesity can be linked to a range of medical conditions including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers and type 2 diabetes.
Insurance underwriters will use the body mass index in addition to weight circumference to assess if the applicant is obese at the time of application.
An additional loading may be applied if the insurer feels that there is an increased likelihood of a claim being made in the future as a result of the applicant's weight.
Steps to live healthier and cut your life insurance premiums
There are some key steps that can be taken by people suffering from high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and excessive alcohol intake.
- Healthy eating plan: Blood pressure can be reduced by increasing intake of fruit, vegetables, fish, whole grains, nuts and food that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Cutting back on red meats, lollies and beverages that are high in sugar will also help.
- Reduce salt intake: Try to maintain a daily salt intake of about 6 grams (1 teaspoon) per day.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Blood pressure is inextricably linked to excessive weight gain. It can also increase chances of diabetes and heart disease. Some people may benefit from seeking the help of a dietician to put together an eating plan to assist with this loss.
- Regular exercise: Being physically active through regular exercise can help prevent and control high blood pressure while reducing the chance of heart disease. Taking the steps to break up a day in the office with a lunchtime run could be the step that is needed to get high blood pressure under control.
- Reduction of alcohol intake: An excessive intake of alcohol can increase blood pressure while having other damaging effects on the body including harm to the liver, heart and brain. It is recommended that men drink a maximum of two drinks per day and women only one.
- Smoking: Smoking causes damage to blood vessel walls, causing them to contract and place greater strain on the body’s ability to produce oxygen.
- Caffeine intake: Reducing intake of coffee and other substances high in caffeine will decrease blood pressure temporarily.
Quirky steps to a healthier life
Thankfully it isn’t all doom and gloom and there are some surprising guilt-free pleasures that we can make part of our daily routine to live healthier.
- Odd glass of red wine: Resveratrol, found within the skin of grapes, can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke by as much as 10% while helping prevent Alzheimers disease, diabetes and the spread of cancer. Just remember to keep to the daily intake of two drinks per day for men and one for women.
- Dark chocolate: Can help prevent certain cancers and keep arteries from clogging. Moderate intake of dark chocolate can reduce certain cardiovascular diseases by up to 37%.
- Meditation: Studies have shown that meditating for over 6-9 months can decrease the risk of heart attack by 11% and decrease the risk of stroke by 8%-15%.
- Sex: Studies have shown that men who have sex more than three times per week reduce their chance of heart attack or stroke by half.
- Laughing: Can improve blood flow by more than 20%.
Protecting our bodies and our loved ones
Ensuring the right level of protection is in place for our loved ones is essential. Serious illness, injury and even death can strike when least expected and can cause great financial strain on our loved ones.
Sadly, Australia and other nations around the world are facing a massive underinsurance problem, with 96% of the population with dependant children currently without an adequate level of protection. Taking the right steps to look after your health will not only decrease the likelihood of a claim but will also drive the price of coverage down, not to mention make you feel great about yourself.
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