Life Insurance Medical Exams: What They Are and How to Prepare

A look at what life insurance medical exams are for, what they involve, and how the results can impact you.

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Updated May 13, 2024
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A few years ago, I bought my very first term life insurance policy. As part of the approval process, I was asked to submit to a medical exam. Even though I am fairly young and in great health, I was a bit nervous about the process.

Although some life insurance policies are available today that don’t require a medical exam, there are many instances in which you’ll be asked to participate in one, whether you're interested in term life or whole life insurance. So today, we are going to talk about why life insurance medical exams are required, what to expect, and how those results can impact your life insurance coverage.

In this article

How do online insurance companies work?

These days, many industries have begun to shift to an online model; life insurance is no different.

Today, there are a number of online life insurance companies that offer easy-to-apply-for coverage at an affordable rate. With many of these companies, you can apply for coverage in just minutes from the comfort of your home, often without the need for a medical exam.

Of course, there can be limits to coverage amounts and eligibility with a no-exam type of policy. For instance, many life insurance companies do tend to have specific restrictions regarding age, medical history, and term length, to name a few. Even some of the best life insurance companies online offer only term life insurance.

With Bestow life insurance you can get a quote for coverage in just seconds and even finalize your policy in five minutes or less if you qualify for a policy. There is no medical exam required to buy a policy, but there are limitations. For example, you can buy a 20-year term only if you’re under age 45.

Why might an online insurer require a medical exam?

Some online insurers never require a medical exam, whereas others might require one some of the time as part of the underwriting process. But how do you know if you’ll be subject to one, and why are they required in the first place?

Having basic knowledge of how life insurance works can help you understand why paramedical exams are regularly a part of the process. In essence, your life insurance issuer is taking a gamble by allowing you to purchase coverage.

The less of a risk you pose (age, risky habits, health history, etc.), the better the bet in their eyes. If you aren’t in good health, though, the insurer will likely view you as a higher risk. This typically means it either needs to charge higher premiums or deny you coverage altogether.

A life insurance medical exam can tell a prospective insurance company many things, including your risks for certain health problems that could impact your life expectancy:

  • Heart disease
  • Liver/kidney failure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Certain types of cancers

With this information, the underwriter can make an informed decision about whether to offer you a life insurance plan and exactly how much to charge. The better your results, the less you'll likely have to pay for coverage, no matter how much life insurance you want to buy.

What to expect from the medical exam

So you’ve already decided that life insurance is a good investment, received a quote, and are ready to move forward with your life insurance application. Now it’s time to pass the test.

Each insurance company has its own process when it comes to paramedical exams, but all of them strive to make it as quick and simple as possible. Often, the insurance company will have you complete a questionnaire and then schedule a healthcare professional to come to your home or place of work to conduct the exam.

When he or she arrives, the healthcare professional will usually record information such as your height, weight, temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. You’ll generally need to submit to a blood draw and perhaps give a urine sample as well. Although not as common, some insurers also take a saliva sample.

Before the nurse leaves, he or she will typically ask you a few health questions and talk to you about your medical history and family history, to confirm some of the answers you gave during the application process.

Depending on your age and medical history, you may need additional testing. If you’re over a certain age or want a high-value policy, for instance, you may need to submit to an electrocardiogram and/or stress test to better evaluate your heart health.

6 tips for preparing for your medical exam

Your insurance company will have specific instructions for you to prepare for your medical exam. It’s important to read and follow these, as they can impact your results. For example, some insurers want fasting blood draws (meaning you haven’t eaten in a specific period of time). Others expect you to eat and drink normally.

You should follow a few general rules in preparation for your health exam, too, if you want to ensure the best possible results for yourself.

1. Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water in the days leading up to your medical exam, and avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. This will not only help your nurse draw blood more successfully, but may also contribute to the best possible results in terms of your blood pressure, heart rate, and more.

Try to stay hydrated over a longer period of time rather than chugging a bunch of water the morning of — the latter can throw off not only your electrolytes but also any urine samples you’re asked to provide.

2. Get sleep

It’s important to be well-rested before your life insurance medical exam, which means getting a solid night’s sleep for at least the day or two prior.

A lack of sleep can negatively affect your blood pressure and heart rate. In some cases, exhaustion can even skew your test results — such as blood sugar levels — and not in your favor.

3. Take it easy on exercise

It’s important to stay fit, both for your physical and mental health. But in the 24 to 48 hours before your life insurance medical exam, you might want to think about taking a rest day. At the very least, go a little lighter in the gym.

Strenuous exercise, such as a heavy lifting day or exhaustive cardio, spills certain proteins into the blood. Although this is a natural part of the post-workout recovery process, the presence of those proteins could also signal an underlying health condition.

Unfortunately, your life insurance company won’t know whether you have an underlying health condition or whether it was just leg day. If you can, switch your usual intense workout for a brisk walk or yoga session.

4. Avoid extra caffeine

You don’t have to skip the usual morning coffee if that’s part of your usual routine. However, if you can force yourself to skip it, all the better. At the very least, try to limit the amount of caffeine you consume in the day leading up to your exam, and especially the morning of.

Don’t drink extra coffee, consume a lot of green tea, or chug an energy drink on the way to work. These can adversely affect your exam results.

5. Stop smoking

Ideally (especially as far as your life insurance company is concerned), you’ll either be a non-smoker or will have stopped smoking long ago. Considering how sensitive the paramedical exams are when it comes to detecting nicotine (and alcohol, narcotics, etc.), they will definitely know your smoking habits anyway — so you can’t get away with lying about it.

However, if you can stop smoking at least a few months before buying life insurance, you’ll be much better off. If that’s not an option, try to stop as far in advance of your medical exam as possible — even if it’s just the day of. The longer you can go without that added nicotine, the better off your blood pressure and heart rate will be, which can further impact your overall testing.

6. Don’t eat a super salty meal

Consuming foods with too much sodium can elevate many people’s blood pressure, which won’t do you any favors in terms of your life insurance exam. Additionally, eating a super salty meal can throw off your blood sodium levels, which could imply that you have other health concerns.

How will results impact your policy?

Your medical exam results may impact the coverage offered to you, the price you’ll pay in life insurance premiums, and even whether you’re offered a policy at all. So, it’s important to ensure that your results are the best they can be.

Depending on how certain markers in your blood and/or urine samples test, you could find yourself either qualifying for the best possible life insurance rates from your insurer or paying a bit more than your original quote. If your paramedical exam shows areas of concern — such as a too-high body mass index or elevated blood pressure — you may be asked to provide additional information or see your premiums raised. Conversely, your results could also show that you are in peak health and fall into the insurer’s lowest-risk category.

If your exam finds the presence of nicotine (especially if you said you were a non-smoker), or alcohol, it could raise your rates or cancel the policy entirely. And with many insurers, the positive presence of narcotics means denied coverage altogether.


What does a life insurance medical exam include?

Life insurance medical exams could involve a medical technician recording your height and weight, calculating your body mass index, and checking your pulse and blood pressure. The technician may also review your medical records, confirm your age, use of tobacco, drug use, and alcohol use, any current medical conditions, and family medical history.

Getting a blood test and providing a urine sample could also be included in the medical exam. Some insurers may check for health issues like high cholesterol or elevated blood glucose levels. Certain conditions, like being older or applying for a large amount of life insurance, could also require an EKG test to measure the electrical signals in your heart.

What's the best way to prepare for a life insurance medical exam?

Your life insurance provider should provide tips and guidelines for preparing for your life insurance physical exam. This could include drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep in the days leading up to the exam.

You might also want to take it easy with heavy or strenuous exercise the day before the exam since this can raise your pulse and blood pressure. Eating healthy, less salty foods and avoiding caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can also help you get better results. Some insurance companies may recommend fasting before your exam, especially if you're having bloodwork done.

Do all life insurance companies require medical exams?

Medical exams are a common step in applying for life insurance, but some companies, like Bestow, don’t require a medical exam. Rather, Bestow checks your health using data and predictive models. They might ask questions about your lifestyle and health, as well as use available data about your prescription and credit history, driving records, and more.

What happens if you fail a life insurance medical exam?

If you fail a life insurance medical exam, your application for life insurance could potentially be denied or your rates could go up. Being denied coverage could mean your health poses too much of a risk for a particular life insurance provider to issue life insurance.

To avoid failing a life insurance medical exam, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself in the months and days leading up to it. Do your best to improve your lifestyle and eating habits, including drinking fewer caffeinated and alcoholic beverages and eating more fruits and vegetables. These are the kinds of changes you can typically control, while certain medical conditions you wouldn’t be able to.

Bottom line

Buying life insurance is an important way to help protect your loved ones, such as your children and spouse, if something unexpected were to happen to you. Although the process of buying a new policy can be quick and simple in most cases, it may require you to submit to a medical exam first.

A life insurance medical exam is usually a fast, straightforward process and can often be done in the comfort of your own home. Although it doesn’t take more than 30 minutes in many cases, it can give your insurer a much clearer view of your lifestyle, habits, and overall health — further influencing your coverage term, limits, and premiums.

Author Details

Stephanie Colestock

Stephanie Colestock is a credit card expert, travel rewards aficionado, and writer who enjoys teaching people how to be financially independent and confident about their money choices. If it has to do with credit, credit cards, or traveling the world on points, you'll find Stephanie writing about it. She also enjoys teaching people how to reach financial independence, regardless of obstacles in their path (such as the crippling student loan debt she once held). Stephanie graduated from Baylor University, and is currently working toward her CFP certification. Her work can be seen on sites such as Forbes, Dough Roller, and Johnny Jet, among many others.