NEW YORK (MainStreet)—"Whether you have a daily fitness routine or not, ten squat thrusts adds something productive that you were not doing before which can positively affect both your physical health and your financial health in ways you've probably never thought about," says Dr. Paul Terpeluk, D.O., Cleveland Clinic's Medical Director of Employee Health Services.

Terpeluk points directly to the Affordable Care Act (A.C.A.), which takes effect January 2014, as a perfect example of just how much money you can save by being more active. "Cleveland Clinic employees who participate in our wellness program can currently save up to 30%, approximately $1,000, on their yearly health insurance premiums, currently the maximum allowed discount under the A.C.A. in 2014," he says.

Additionally, according to the Affordable Care Act and Wellness Programs government fact sheet, the maximum reward has been increased to as much as 50% for participating in programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use.

When I decided to get life insurance last year, I found out first-hand how much money you can save on those premiums as well by being physically fit. The insurance agent quoted me a basic rate for a non-smoking female of my age, height and weight but that my actual premium would be based on the results of a health exam including all of my vital signs and samples of my blood and urine. About a week later, I received my specific test results and was thrilled that all my levels were normal. But, when I got the call from the agent telling me about my "preferred" health status and that I could pay $25 less per month for $50,000 more in coverage than I planned, I realized that my daily run with my dogs and cutting down on butter and bread in my diet made a big difference in my wallet.

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"It's very valuable to be healthy," says Cindy V. Gentry, president of BBA Life Brokerage and chair-elect for the non-profit Life Foundation. "Because life insurance is based on your risk of dying sooner rather than later, physical fitness can save you around 20% to 30% and nonsmokers pay premiums that are 40% less than those for smokers."

Terpeluk says that inactivity is responsible for approximately 50% of total U.S. healthcare costs in the form of the five major "sedentary lifestyle" diseases: obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and heart disease. These diseases also deplete personal finances as the less healthy and active you are, the more likely you will spend more on:

  • Prescription and over the counter medications
  • Eating fast food, drinks and junk food snacks out
  • Medical expenses and co-pays
  • Life insurance premiums
  • Health insurance premiums
  • Cigarettes
  • Alcohol (and its related health and legal expenses)
  • Impulse shopping

There is a definite connection between physical fitness and financial fitness

University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics' Heidi Beckman, a specialist in health psychology and personal change as well as a certified personal finance educator, explains that people don't realize the links between physical fitness and financial fitness even though they have been studied and proven.

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Self control in one area of your life generalizes to other areas in your life: Beckman says that studies such as, "Longitudinal Gains in Self-Regulation from Regular Physical Exercise" published in 2006 in the British Journal of Health Psychology, show that becoming more disciplined in one area of your life generalizes to other areas of your life. "Self-control and discipline is like a muscle that builds strength the more you practice it," says Beckman. "What you can gain from sticking with regular physical exercise translates into concrete financial habits such as sticking with a budget, having the willpower to save part of your paycheck instead of spending it all and even resisting the temptations of instant gratification while shopping," she says.

Ellie Kay, family finance expert and co-author of Lean Body, Fat Wallet(Thomas Nelson, 2013), says, "The specific aspects of delayed gratification and working toward a goal have a tremendous impact on our health, fitness and our financial bottom line."

Food and money are inversely related. With food, we tend to underestimate how much we eat and we overestimate our activity level and with our finances, we overestimate how much money we have and underestimate how much we have spent or how much it matters, explains Deanna Demetre, a former nurse, current life coach and co-author of Lean Body, Fat Wallet.

Demetre and Kay say you can apply the following "3 D's" to overspending or overeating (or any of your other unhealthy "appetites," as Terpeluk puts it):

1. Determine a specific activity or temptation that is a trigger for an unwanted habit.

2. Distract yourself. When faced with the unwanted choice, get away from that activity, even if briefly.

3. Delay. Wait a specific amount of time (a few minutes, 20 minutes, a few decide) and see if you still want to take part in the temptation (eat the food, make the purchase, etc.)

By employing the "3 D's" as soon as you recognize a trigger, you have a strategy which allows the strong impulse to pass so you stay on track, says Kay.

Regular physical activity can boost your brain power. Much research has proven that regular exercise has cognitive benefits and can boost your ability to plan, focus and multitask, all hallmarks of successful money management. This 2011 review published in the Journal of Applied Physiology entitled, "Exercise, Brain, and Cognition Across the Life Span" concluded that one hour of light aerobic activity at least three times per week and resistance training two to three times per week allowed participants to see benefits. Increasing resistance is a key factor in increasing cognitive skills, according to the review. Beckman says that exercise is also known to reduce stress levels, a well-known trigger in both overeating, smoking, alcohol consumption and compulsive shopping...all of which can cause overspending.

Self-control is a limited resource. Beckman says to imagine that you start your day with a full bucket of self-control used for all stressful situations. Throughout your day, the self-control in your bucket gets depleted so avoid tempting situations when you know your bucket is empty. But luckily, ten-minute bouts of outdoor physical activity can replenish your supply of self-control as researchers found in this 2010 multi-study analysis published in Environmental Science and Technology entitled, "What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health?"

Want to make a physical change that may invoke a financial change? Beckman says to start by examining your dreams and values. "Envision how your life will be when the change is already made," she advises. Demetre agrees and adds, "Decide what you want your life to look and feel like that is different from how it is now." Try some of the following strategies to jump-start a change:

  • Make the change important. Make a list of pros and cons for the physical or financial change until the "pro" side is much longer.
  • Become hyper-aware. Notice the unhealthy thought that accompanies unwanted habits or inactivity and change the message you tell yourself. Instead of "Running is hard," the new you might say to yourself, "I'm a runner, so I go running every day." Changing the self-talk makes it easier to implement new strategies and helps the new habit take hold.
  • Act as if you have already made the change. This strategy makes the new habit or message part of your identity and helps change your self-talk quicker.
  • Understand that it takes time to retrain your brain. This is a long-term solution to ridding yourself of unhealthy dominant thoughts and actions which soon give way to healthy dominant thought as the neurological pathways become stronger
  • Start small. Start with a small health or fitness change that is practical and simple such as switching out soft drinks for water, for example. This will reduce sugar spikes and jitters, lubricate working muscles, help your blood sugar remain more stable, cut empty calories and save you from spending cash on soda. Kay says a family of four could save over $400 per year just on dining out without ordering sodas. Or try simply walking more which is both free and easy, says Terpeluk.
  • Be realistic. Demetre says to ask yourself, "Could you live this way most days for the rest of your life and still enjoy your life?" If the answer is yes, then it's probably a realistic, sustainable goal.

Terpeluk says becoming more physically fit can have a profound effect on your health and your wallet quicker than you think: In just a few weeks you'll be able to feel and see the effects. He also stresses that as The Affordable Health Care Act gets underway, patients and consumers will find themselves more accountable for the amount they pay in their own healthcare costs and that being more active is a sure way to pay less.

--Written by Naomi Mannino for MainStreet

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