How Big of a Role Can Exercise Play in the Insurance Underwriting Process?

How Big of a Role Can Exercise Play in the Insurance Underwriting Process?

We have heard it time and time again. Exercise is important for health and healthy people get better life insurance rates. However, just how big of a role does exercise play in the underwriting process? We asked Karen Cutler, Chief Underwriter Individual Insurance at Manulife, for her thoughts on this matter.

“Exercise definitely plays a role in how Manulife underwrites applications, and it will continue to play a bigger role in the future,” she says.

Manulife strongly supports its clients’ health, offering products like Vitality, which was first introduced in 2016. Vitality provides Manulife life insurance applicants discounts on premiums and the ability to earn rewards by making healthy choices. Cutler is seeing even higher-risk applicants buying Vitality.

The Vitality program merges with the ongoing trend of people using apps and trackers to empower their healthy goals. In 2022, up to 18% of Manulife’s life insurance applicants were using some type of fitness tracker, including using an app to manage their diabetes or an Oura Ring, which monitors activity and sleep. Cutler also reports seeing a trend in physical activity prescribed by physicians to help people manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (alongside other treatment options as applicable).

She further describes how exercise impacts underwriting decisions.

“From an underwriting perspective, if someone has a health impairment like a heart attack, the underwriter needs to understand how the applicant has adjusted their lifestyle. Are they embracing it as an opportunity to rebuild their lives or are they following the status quo? Exercise also plays a role as it comes through in the Attending Physician Statements (APS). In higher issue ages (75+), Manulife specifically asks questions about social and physical activity, as these activities play a key role in disease prevention and longevity.”

Preconditions have always played a role in underwriting. Exercise impacts that too.

Cutler explains, “Cardiovascular illnesses and cancer diagnosis are all impacted by metabolic health and thus are positively impacted by exercise. For example, women who had breast cancer can reduce the risk of metastatic disease if they start exercising post diagnosis. We are seeing more and more medical studies that look at the ability to change your medical state post illness through exercise. Mental health can also be hugely impacted by exercise and getting outside. According to Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity, you can flip the switch of metabolic health just by moving every day.  The only equipment you need is a good pair of shoes!”

What about clients who face roadblocks to traditional insurance due to underlying health conditions?

“Advisors that have hard-to-insure clients should be submitting cover letters with their applications and letting the underwriter know what the applicant has done to adapt to their new health status, including what physical activity have been incorporated into their lifestyle,” says Cutler.

This will soon be easier for advisors and brokers to clarify, as the Manulife application will change in the fall, incorporating some questions which will ask specifically about exercise.

Cutler adds, “People who are more active are more like to recover faster from a health issue and the advisor or broker plays a big role in conveying that message.” Founder Lorne Marr concurs. “I walk the walk – literally. I often do a daily strategy walk as a means of getting exercise and Vitamin D, and I also find it is a great way to get more creative.”

One issue that has seen increased discussion in recent years is the inclusion of BMI data in underwriting considerations. Cutler discusses how and why BMI data is used.

“BMI tables can be a good indicator of health, but what would further augment BMI is a waist circumference test.  Measuring waist circumference can help to assess obesity-related health risks. Even at a healthy weight, excess fat carried around the waist can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. If an advisor has a very active client with a high BMI, they should be sure to include the waist measurement and activity levels as part of the cover letter. Many doctors will likely lean towards a weight-to-waist measurement in the coming years, and Manulife may get that measurement as part of an APS.”

Exercise should be a part of everyone’s healthy lifestyle, be it a daily stroll through a park, gardening, dancing, or joining a gym. Not only will it add life to your years and years to your life, exercise has an impact on life insurance rates. Why not feel good and save money?

No matter your health and lifestyle, there is an insurance option available. Working with an independent broker that has access to a full range of life insurance carriers, ensures you get matched with your ideal policy. Contact us today to learn more or for a no obligation quote.

About the author:

Author Bio
Karen Cutler
Karen Cutler

Karen Cutler is The Chief Underwriter for Individual Insurance at Manulife. She currently leads a team of 250 highly motivated underwriting and claims professionals and medical staff at Manulife including a team responsible for research and development in mortality, morbidity and technical underwriting and claims management. This team underwrites and adjudicates claims for Life, CI, DI, LTC, Health & Dental and Travel products.

Karen and her team are recognized for their underwriting skills and for leading the Canadian industry in underwriting innovative underwriting philosophy and her passion lies in developing new approaches to underwriting, claims and risk management.

Active in the industry, Karen is the Past-Chair of the Canadian Reinsurance Conference, and has participated in many industry committees. She is the current Chair of the CLHIA’s Committee on Underwriting Issues. Karen has spoken at numerous industry events including the AHOU, CIU, CRC and CALU and she was also recognized as one of Canada’s 50 Most Influential Women by the Insurance and Investment Journal in August 2014.

Prior to joining Manulife, Karen held various senior leadership roles in underwriting including Chief Underwriter for Swiss Re in Canada and the Caribbean.

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