Money talks: why financial health matters

03.04.15 |

Give yourself the best chance to function at your absolute best

Optimal Health is about more than weight loss. It’s about bringing every area of wellness into balance so that you can function at your absolute best. With our nation’s obsession with diet & exercise, these other aspects of health are often ignored. The consequence of ignoring the total picture of health has been countless failed resolutions, a slew of cancelled gym memberships, and more than a few disastrous diet attempts.

The ripple effect of choices

To keep patients from feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices that can affect your health, I summarize well-being into three key areas: physical health, mental health, and financial health. The deeper that you go into the Habits of Health system, the more you see that our choices do not exist in silos. For example, a poor night’s sleep can lead to a stressful day at work, which leaves you stuck at the office working late instead of heading to the gym for your favorite cycling class.

One choice—going to sleep late—can ripple through all three areas of well-being. The only way to avoid being derailed by these ripples is to strive for Optimal Health in all facets of your life.

Scientific measurement

The potential harm from this overlap is not just theoretical. Researchers have actually begun to measure it. For example, CDC researchers recently released a new study that explores the link between hypertension (high blood pressure) and socioeconomic status. They found that “states with a median household income of $43,225 or less and states with 18.7 percent or more of residents living below the poverty line had a higher prevalence of hyper tension than states with the most residents in the most advantageous quintile of the indicators.”

In other words, the less well-off are more likely to have high blood pressure.

To be completely forthright, this study does not go as far as to claim causation or to clearly define the correlation between income and blood pressure, but one could reasonably assert that the realities of being low-income directly affect a person’s health.

We know through previous research that lower income individuals and families have poorer diets overall for a variety of reasons—like cost, access, and education—but we could also safely guess that being financially unstable is stressful. In fact, I don’t need to guess. From my days as a young med student, I know what it feels like to scrape together a rent check, and that type of stress can have serious consequences for one’s health.

The payday alone isn’t enough

I, for one, am not surprised by these findings, but you should not make the mistake of assuming that simply making a lot of money equates to Optimal Financial Health. In fact, having a lot of money can be just as unhealthy as having too little money. In the Habits of Health system, we view financial stability as a gateway to creating meaningful memories with the people we love. This does not mean chasing bigger paydays for the sake of the payday alone. It means organizing your life around what matters most.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your work a constant source of anxiety and stress?
  • Do you often spend long days at the office?
  • Does your job interrupt or limit the time you can spend with your family?
  • Do you spend an hour or more commuting?
  • Do you constantly worry about your bills?

Ideally, your work should be a source of fulfillment as well as a source for income. You should be able to provide for your family without sacrificing your ability to be there with them. If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you have an opportunity to revitalize your Habits of Healthy Finances. As the study we discussed previously illustrated, your financial health can have a real impact on your physical and mental health, for better or for worse.

How you improve your financial health will be completely unique to you, but what’s important is that you think about it.

I am not suggesting that you storm into your boss’s office today to give your two-week’s notice. Changing your career path could improve your financial health, yes, but so could opting out of the fancy sports car so that you could have a longer family vacation. You could ask to work from home a few days a week. You could move closer to your job to cut down on your commute. You could turn your cellphone off at night so that you can focus on your loved-ones.

How you improve your financial health will be completely unique to you, but what’s important is that you think about it. If you ignore your financial health, you could not only be missing out on an opportunity for rich and vibrant health, but you could undermine the progress you have made in every other area of your well-being.