Five ways to cut your life insurance premiums(Maria Teijeiro-Cultura-Getty Images)

Life insurance is a game of probabilities. You take out a policy to make sure that should the worst happen you won't leave your loved ones in the lurch financially. And you then hope they'll never need it.

And on their part, the insurance companies take your money and then count on you living a long and full life. They then can invest your money and make a healthy profit. And they hope they won't have to pay out.

It's a simple arrangement, but it's when you start looking at the risk factors involved that it gets more tricky. If you're classed as 'high risk' you could struggle to find a company to insure you, or one that will only do so at a vastly inflated premium. That's because statistically you're more likely than the average Joe to pop your clogs and force the insurer to pay out a hefty sum.

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What insurers classify as 'high risk'
So how do you become 'high risk'? Well, it's all back to that probabilities issue again. There are some people for whom, frankly, death is more likely. One example is if you already have an existing condition, such as cancer. As a result insurance companies are not going to be jumping with joy at the prospect of insuring you.

But you don't have to be, or have been, ill either for them to see you as high risk. A family history of heart disease, high blood pressure or cancer is enough. As is being overweight.

The same applies if you're over 60. Let's face it, while a 20-year-old should have a good 50 years ahead of them, you don't. There's no two ways about it. So, as life insurance premiums increase with age, getting a term life insurance quote while you're young, single and healthy makes good financial sense.

And, while none of us can guarantee that we won't die prematurely, there are ways to lessen your chances of being seen as a big risk and being charged a trumped-up premium for the privilege.

1. Become a vegetarian
While the thinking used to be that three square meals and a staple diet of meat and two veg was the way to stay hale and hearty, things have changed.

Vegetarians are now being specifically targeted by an insurance company that says a no-meat diet puts people at less risk of some cancers and heart disease.

Elaine Fairfax, managing director of Animal Friends Insurance, which has teamed up with Liverpool Victoria, said: "The risk of vegetarians suffering from some cancers is reduced by up to 40% and from heart disease by up to 30%, but despite this they have to pay the same life insurance premiums as meat eaters."

Animal Friends' premiums are on average 6% less. Fairfax added: "The life insurance industry needs to acknowledge the fact that being a vegetarian can have a very positive impact on life expectancy and reduce premiums accordingly."

2. Lose weight
As well as increasing the risk of heart disease, hypertension, cancer and diabetes, obesity can ultimately cause early death. Government figures suggest that obese people on average die nine years before their leaner counterparts.

So if you're seriously overweight it's little surprise insurers will see you as high risk.

In a society in which obesity is become increasingly common, insurers are getting wise to the risks and raising the premiums accordingly. Life companies are increasing premiums on their life assurance policies accordingly by calculating the body mass index. The heavier you are in relation to your height, the steeper your premiums will be.

As Philippa Gee, investments director at independent financial adviser Torquil Clark, said: "It's a harsh reality but ultimately the cost of life protection for a higher-risk client will have to be met from the individual's pocket."

So what can you do - apart from try to lose weight? Well, it may be touted as a sure-fire way to look, and feel, better, but the boom in weight-loss surgery is also proving to be a way to cut insurance premiums.

Going under the knife might be drastic, but I suppose it's something to consider if weighing yourself naked is no longer having enough of an effect on your insurance premium.

3. If you're a woman, buy a policy before you get pregnant
Everyone might say you're "blooming" and you might very well feel fit as a fiddle, but as a mother-to-be insurance companies might not be as dewy-eyed about your pregnancy.

It's all down to illnesses and ailments that cam strike even the healthiest of women during pregnancy. While your pregnancy manuals may not want to spread alarm about blood pressure and blood sugar levels, insurance companies are more interested in their profits than your peace of mind.

As Torquil Clark's Philippa Gee explains, these may be common ailments but they sound alarm bells to insurance companies.

"While very minor ailments during pregnancy are unlikely to cause concern among insurance underwriters, there are a number of conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which can affect pregnant women unexpectedly and which insurers will consider a greater risk."

Some insurers will charge a higher premium for cover or they might only allow you to apply a few months after your child is born. Insurer Bright Grey is one such insurer to do this.

And Tony Jupp, chief underwriter at Norwich Union Life, says while only a small number of women are affected at the moment, that's likely to change.

"As more women wait until after they are 35 to have children, the more likely we might be to say 'wait and see' until after the birth.

"The vast majority of pregnancies pass safely and happily, but we don't have a crystal ball and problems can occur very suddenly. It's always best to get life cover sorted out when you are hale and hearty."

If you do suffer complications then you can expect to pay as much as 50% more for cover, if you can find someone to insure you. If you can get cover it pays to switch to a cheaper policy when your baby is between three and six months old - and your risk rating is downgraded.

4. Give the extreme sports a miss
People who take part in extreme or dangerous hobbies are usually considered a greater life insurance risk. The risks are evident when it comes to parachuting and snowboarding, but when you set off on a week's skiing you might be surprised to find out you've just increased your life insurance premium.

Likewise, most horse riders wouldn't think of themselves as taking part in an extreme sport. Parachuting may be extreme, bungee jumping probably is, and tomb-stoning definitely is, but not horse-riding. Yet to some insurance companies they're all in the same category.

Not all insurers categorise sports in the same way though, so do check. But whatever you do, shop around and make sure you're not paying a dare-devil's premium for a safe canter around your local common.

5. Don't smoke
An old chestnut, I know, but there's no denying that smokers pay a hefty premium. Obesity might be new on insurance companies' black-list, but proven links between smoking and lung and throat cancer, not to mention a host of other serious and terminal diseases, mean premiums for both life insurance and critical illness cover increase substantially as a result.

And while the government estimates it won't be long before obesity kills more people every year than cigarettes, don't think the insurance companies are about to go soft on smokers. The only solution is to stop.

General tips
When buying life insurance, remember that definitions of "high-risk occupations", "dangerous sports" and "poor medical history" vary from insurer to insurer. So, make sure you get as many quotes as possible to get the best deal for you.

And, if you think something may affect your premium mention it. Because it's better to be up-front from the start than risk leaving your loved ones wrangling with unforgiving underwriters over some "undisclosed information" that comes to light in the event of your untimely death.

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