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By Cameron Huddleston, GOBankingRates.com (TNS)

You know healthful habits can help you improve your physical and mental well-being, ward off chronic diseases, and even prolong your life. But did you know they can also help you save money?

That’s right: Taking steps to improve your health can also improve your finances. In fact, the savings can be substantial and long term. Here are five ways to improve your health — and finances.

Eat Less Meat

One way to improve your finances and health is to cut back on meat.

“Studies do show that people who eat less meat tend to be leaner and less likely to gain weight than people with higher meat intakes,” said Kristen Gradney, the owner of a nutrition consulting firm. Numerous studies have also shown that switching to a vegetarian diet can lower cholesterol levels, she said.

Plus, you can cut your grocery bill by replacing meat sources of protein with beans and vegetables. A can of beans usually costs less than $1.

Quench Your Thirst With Water

You’ve probably heard that you should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, but that rule isn’t supported by hard evidence. In fact, water needs vary person to person.

But the truth is, water is your best bet for hydration because it’s calorie-free and inexpensive. Considering households spend an average of $850 a year on soda, and drinking just one soda every day can add 10 pounds of extra weight in a year, according to Drink Water First, your wallet and waistline will thank you for sticking to water. Just skip bottled water, which costs 240 to 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Drink Less Alcohol

Various studies have found that moderate consumption of alcohol actually helps your heart. However, if you drink too much, those benefits are outweighed by an increased risk of high blood pressure, liver damage, certain types of cancer, and other problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. So what’s a moderate amount? One glass of wine a day for women and men older than 65 and two for men 65 and younger.

Limiting — or eliminating — your alcohol consumption will also save you money. Consumers spend an average of $445 a year on alcoholic beverages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Cutting back or eliminating your alcohol consumption can save you several hundreds of dollars every year.

Exercise With Friends

Exercise is an easy way to improve your health. Not only does physical activity help you control your weight and combat chronic health conditions, it can also make you feel happier, relieve stress, and give you more energy. Exercise can also lead to higher wages because it boosts productivity, according to a study published in the Journal of Labor Research.

Quit Smoking

You probably don’t need to be told that smoking is bad for you — it’s an accepted fact. But if the warnings that smoking can lead to lung disease, heart disease, and cancer haven’t convinced you to quit, maybe the high cost of your habit will.

The average price for a pack of cigarettes is $6.24, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. So if you have a pack-a-day habit, you’re spending nearly $2,300 a year on cigarettes. Plus, smokers pay $35 for related health costs per pack they smoke, according to the American Cancer Society — which adds up to almost $13,000 a year if you smoke a pack a day.

Photo: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via Flickr

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