When not used properly, credit cards can hurt your mental - and, of course, your financial - well-being. But, when used correctly and smartly, your overall physical, mental and financial health can actually benefit when you use your credit cards.
The first step with credit cards is understanding what it takes to create credit health with your cards. This basically means using your cards the right way and not sinking further into debt.
A study of young adults found that household financial debt hurts psychological health and overall health. High debt is "associated with higher perceived stress and depression, worse self-reported general health and higher diastolic blood pressure," according to at least one study.
But credit cards themselves aren't the root cause of the evil. It's how you use them that causes the problems.
Personal finance columnist Liz Weston says there's no credit card reward rich enough or "healthy" enough to offset the cost of carrying credit card debt.
"When you're carrying a balance, your primary concern should be getting the lowest possible interest rate so you can get out of debt faster," she says.
But for those of you already in the good habit of paying your balance in full every month, you could consider a card that will reward another of your good habits: taking care of yourself with spa treatments, diet and exercise, Weston says.
So, let's take a look at some ways in which your credit cards can actually help you get physically healthy.
Put your gym membership and fitness or yoga classes on a credit card that earns rewards
You have a trip planned to Europe or you want a bigger TV. Get a rewards card to help pay for those purchases while also using that card to pay for a gym membership. That way, you're collecting points while enjoying the health benefits of physical activity. Auto-payments, whether for your gym membership or your electric bill - are a fantastic way to rack up rewards. Some credit cards even pay bonus rewards for promptly paying your bill. BUT (and this is a big BUT) you must pay these charges off each month for this method to make sense.
Furthermore, be sure you're paying on time or you'll be accruing finance charges and potentially late fees as well.
Use bonus points to buy personal fitness equipment and training
You've had your eyes on a piece of fitness equipment that's advertised during your favorite show, but you can't fit it into your budget. Sign up for a rewards credit card that allows you to cash in your rewards and pay toward personal fitness equipment. In this scenario, don't sign up for a travel rewards card that will only allow you to use points for specific travel. Instead, look for a rewards card that makes the most sense for you and your lifestyle.
Consider a card that offers cash back and commit to depositing your cash back into a savings account that you only tap into when you're ready to make that big purchase. In other words, use your rewards credit card as a sort of savings plan that doesn't require you to do anything more than make the everyday purchases you would be making anyway.
Use credit cards that reward healthy lifestyles
There are actually credit cards out there that can help you get healthy.
American Express cardholders can use their membership rewards points to buy health and fitness items such as:
Workout accessories, such as heart monitors, fitness trackers and balance balls
Home gym equipment, such as treadmills, eliptical machines and exercise bikes
Spa gift cards from SpaFinder and Red Door Spas
"You're developing better credit, paying off your bills each month and getting the rewards," says Rocco Castellano, Las Vegas-based fitness expert and personality, business coach and author.
Leave your car at home and shop with your credit card
The beauty of a credit card is that you don't have to bring your bulky wallet or pocketbook with you when you shop. One credit card in your pocket is enough. Better yet, in many places you can use a smartphone app or mobile wallet to make purchases so you don't even need the physical card.
How does this help your fitness? Let's say there is a store that's a mile away and it's easy to get there by foot or bike. Leave the car at home and take a brisk walk or ride your bike. You'll get exercise and save on gas, which could help you pay your credit card bill.
When Ellie Kay and her husband got rid of their second car, it forced them to walk more - and they benefited financially, too.
"We were out of debt in two and a half years and my husband got really buff," said Kay, who is "America's family finance expert®" and author of 14 books, including "The 60 Minute Money Workout."
Dump high-interest cards and transfer balances to lower APR card (use the savings for fitness)
If you're paying monthly interest charges, it's important to make sure you have the lowest APR possible; it could be that you qualify for a 0 percent offer, so shop around for low introductory APR cards or balance transfer credit cards.
If possible, transfer your balance to a 0 percent introductory APR card such as BankAmericard® credit card, which offers 18 billing cycles no interest on purchases and balance transfers (after the intro period, 14.99% - 24.99% Variable APR on purchases). Then, while you're paying down the principal, use the savings on interest for a gym membership or a fitness class as long as whatever you set as your monthly credit card payment is enough to pay off the principal before your lower APR period ends.
Paying off your balances in full each month is a good habit. So is diet and exercise to maintain a healthy weight and stay active. Financial well-being and physical well-being go hand-in-hand, so get started working on both.
Photo: By Aasimovic (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons