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Getting healthy can save money

It’s no secret that we all should say no to those super-jumbo fries and yes to the treadmill. But even if the idea of physical well-being isn’t enough incentive to join the yoga-pants-clad masses, what if we told you there are financial benefits, as well?

Adopting the following healthy habits could pay off big:

1. Drink alcohol in moderation: “The problem with alcohol is that most people don’t know what a serving is,” says Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian nutritionist and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A serving is five ounces of wine (enough to fill half a wineglass), 12 ounces of beer (a regular can or bottle), or a shot glass full of hard liquor. The definition of “moderate” drinking is one serving per day for women and two for men.

Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the average cost of a malt beverage consumed at home at 93 cents; and for wine, $1.46. For a woman who drinks more than moderately – let’s say two drinks per day – that’s $679 annually for beer and $1,066 for wine. This is without accounting for the extra costs of consuming alcohol at bars and restaurants.

Higher-than-moderate drinking essentially pickles the liver and can contribute to other ills.

“A beer belly really is a beer belly,” Angelone says. “Calories from alcohol tend to be stored more quickly as fat.”

2. Eat your veggies … and grains and legumes: Most Americans get too much protein and saturated fat, both of which are associated with poorer health, says Angelone. Meat is usually the biggest contributor to saturated fat intake, which increases the risk of heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. We’re not suggesting you switch to a vegetarian diet. Making a healthful change is as easy as bulking up on beans, legumes, grains and eggs, while making meat a condiment, rather than the focus of the meal.

The changes will be evident in your grocery bill. In July, the labor statistics bureau quoted the price of uncooked ground beef at $3.79 per pound; pork chops at $3.51 per pound; and fresh, whole chicken at $1.48 per pound. Compare that with eggs at $1.83 a dozen; dried beans at $1.42 per pound; peanut butter at $2.74 per pound; and rice at 72 cents per pound.

Meanwhile, in the produce section, apples were just $1.41 per pound; bananas were 60 cents per pound; tomatoes were $1.43 per pound; and potatoes were 70 cents per pound.

3. Say no to tobacco: Most smokers have heard this so many times they could scream, and still the CDC reports that 19 percent of American adults – 43.8 million people – were smokers as of 2011. We won’t go through the well-known list of cancers and other maladies associated with smoking, but know the CDC reported last year that tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S.

Even if you don’t quit for your health, do it for your wallet. The national average price of a pack of cigarettes is $6.03, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. So someone who smokes a pack a week spends $313.56 a year. Someone who smokes a pack a day will sink $2,200.95 annually into the habit.

But the buck doesn’t stop there. According to the American Cancer Society, each pack also comes with $35 in health-related costs. That’s an extra $1,820 if you smoke a pack a week, and $12,775 if you smoke a pack a day.

Kicking that pack-a-day habit could end up netting you about $15,000 every year.

4. Ride a bike or walk to work: The physical benefits of being active regularly can include improved mood, better-quality sleep, improved mental sharpness, decreased body fat, increased lean muscle mass and improved bone mineral density, among other things, health experts say. You also can save big.

For instance, someone making a 10-mile trip to and from work, who also pays $110 a month for parking, will save $10.35 per day by biking, or $227.70 this month alone.

For people who don’t believe they have enough time to work out, integrating exercise into the commute, if possible, is a solution.

5. Bring your lunch: Brown-bagging it isn’t just a time saver at work; it’s also a big money saver. Consider this Subway promotion: Get a 6-inch sandwich and drink combo for as little as $4. Priced at $5, the tuna sandwich meal isn’t bad, right? Yes, until you consider what else that can get you. According to the Cost of Living Index (COLI), just over $4 will buy a 5-ounce can of tuna, a 24-ounce loaf of bread and a two-liter bottle of Coke. That’s almost enough to make two similarly sized sandwiches, with bread and soda left over for later (but you shouldn’t be drinking soda anyway).

6. Thirsty? Drink water: The typical 12-ounce soda contains about 150 calories. You’d have to walk about a mile and a half just to burn those calories. Two sodas a day? That’s a three-mile hike just to stay even.

Diet soda doesn’t seem to be better. According to an article from the Harvard School of Public Health, it’s possible that sweetened beverages of either type could drive us to crave other sweet or high-carbohydrate foods. Studies have linked artificially sweetened drinks to weight gain.

Sidestep all of that with good, old-fashioned water from the tap. The average price of a two-liter bottle of Coke is $1.57, according to COLI. And if the average American drinks 44 gallons (or 167 liters) annually, as the Associated Press recently reported, that’s a cost of $131 each year.

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