Can Runners Save on Life Insurance?
Underwriters may reward your exercise habits, but they take a careful look at the total picture of your health.
By Jon Marcus Friday, July 15, 2016, 4:08 pm
This advertisement, appearing regularly in runners’ Facebook feeds, promises lower rates on life insurance for fast people.
The ad has likely snuck into your Facebook feed, asking, Can You Run An 8 Minute Mile? Runners have a 35% lower risk of all-cause mortality and could qualify for lower rates on life insurance.
Is it true? Health IQ, the company running the Facebook ad, did not respond to repeated requests to talk to Runner s World.
But it raises an interesting question. Can a love of exercise pay off in this way? The answer, from industry experts, is that it is possible, but it s more complicated than running a single eight-minute mile.
Runners often score well in the kinds of outcomes insurance underwriters like blood pressure, cholesterol, ratio of weight to height and by which life insurance premiums are calculated. One study of 50,000 adults conducted at Iowa State University and elsewhere showed that running as little as four to five miles a week as slowly as 11 or 12 minutes a mile reduces the prospect of death from heart problems by 45 percent and extends life spans by as much as three years compared to not running.
At least one major life insurance carrier, John Hancock, has introduced a plan that gives discounts of up to 15 percent to customers who meet exercise goals measured by fitness trackers, a move observers say may be the beginning of a trend.
Since running improves HDL that is, the good cholesterol and keeps weight and blood pressure down, those who run may be at an advantage when it comes to being eligible for the best life insurance premium rates available from insurers, said Steven Rigatti, M.D. vice president and chief medical officer at the mutual life insurance company MassMutual.
But that s only part of the process of determining a premium. Industry experts say your personal or family medical history may overshadow your exercise habits. In a few cases, participation in extreme sports triathlon among them could increase scrutiny from life-insurance rate-setters.
Some runners may not check out as healthy as they appear, said Kyle Winkfield, managing partner of the Washington, D.C. financial planning firm O Dell, Winkfield, Roseman Shipp. Just because you run doesn t mean you re going to get these awesome rates.
While running generally reduces the chance of having high blood pressure by more than 4 percent, according to the American Heart Association, Winkfield said some runners still may have higher blood pressure, or medical histories that include surgeries or other issues. You could be a really accomplished runner, but you had a heart attack 10 years ago, said Winkfield, who was a decathlete in college.
Runners often do score well in a category underwriters also often ask about: what they eat. If you re a great runner and you enjoy it, make sure your nutrition is as sound as your passion for running is, said Winkfield, who is also coauthor of the book SuccessOnomics .
It s these kinds of indirect benefits that affect life insurance rates, not running in and of itself, said Jamie Hopkins, co-director of the New York Life Center for Retirement Income, a professor at the American College of Financial Services, and an avid runner himself who has run every day for the last six and a half years.
The odds that you can save on life insurance just by being a runner is very small, Hopkins said. Just running alone is unlikely to give you that cost savings you may be hoping for. But the quality of life you get from running, those things are going to impact your premiums.
Runners are far from alone in enjoying these benefits. Even brisk walking for as little as 15 minutes a day improve life spans by the same three years, a study in Taiwan found.
We don t have a specific risk class that says runners will get the best possible rate, but we certainly take it into consideration, said Gretchen Dinucci, chief underwriter at the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company. That family history is probably going to override the fact that you re physically fit.
Runners are likely to benefit most from their sport in the physicals some life insurance plans require. High scores go to people who put in at least two and a half hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 15 minutes of vigorous activity, and push-ups, sit-ups, weightlifting, and the like.
Many companies have a question on the application [asking if] you regularly exercise, so there is usually an opportunity to tell us that, Dinucci said. Let us know, because it will only help.
But there s also some research showing that intense physical activity, including running, can cause cardiac injury, rather than prevent it. And insurers are more likely to closely scrutinize participation in extreme sports. One in 76,000 entrants have died in or immediately after USA Triathlon events, for instance. Here, too, research has zeroed in on pre-existing and undiagnosed heart conditions as the most likely cause in many of these deaths.
Someone who s an extreme sports person, we re going to look at that very carefully and see what they re doing, said Dinucci. There can be a higher risk of injuries if you re overdoing it.
Like health insurers, John Hancock is using fitness trackers now to offer discounts to life-insurance policyholders under a new program pioneered in South Africa, Australia, and the U.K. It s the only U.S. company so far to do this, industry watchers and representatives of other carriers confirm.
Hancock s Vitality life-insurance line rewards activity, tracked by FitBits, and also gives points for things like running, going to an exercise class, having regular medical and dental checkups, and buying healthy food. Reaching frequent flyer-style status levels means getting annual discounts up to 15 percent, plus gift cards and discounts at retailers including REI and Whole Foods.
It keeps you motivated and inspired to live healthy, said Hancock spokeswoman Laura Vail Wooster.
After all, said Winkfield, What do life insurance companies hope you don t do when you buy the policy? They hope you don t die.
Some policyholders may be more concerned about their privacy than about prospective discounts, Hopkins said. But, he said, Runners are different. We love to brag about our running. He said he expects other companies to follow Hancock s lead.
Half of millennials and a third of people overall are willing to share the results on their activity trackers with a life insurance company if it saves them money, a survey by LIMRA, formerly the Life Insurance Market Research Association, found.
Even then, said Cliff Wilson, chairman of the board of the industry-financed consumer-education nonprofit Life Happens, Just saying, Because I exercise I ll get a better rate may not be true. There are certain things we can t control. We can t pick our parents.