Health is wealth. We’ve all seen it needlepointed on a pillow in someone’s living room. Or, maybe someone has reminded us that if we “don’t have our health, we don’t have anything.” Truisms that manage to both highlight and hide the complexity of the interconnections between our physical health, mental health, and financial well-being.
Dr. Courtney Jordan Baechler, medical director of emerging science centers at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, says that no matter our race or gender, genomically—that is, the makeup of our genes—we’re 99 percent the same.
Yet women are twice as likely to develop generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, adds Dr. Jordan Baechler. Women also earn an average of 82 cents on the dollar compared to men, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families, and 75 percent of caregivers are women, whether they’re caring for their children, parents or another family member, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance and the Institute on Aging.
“Those are objective health stats,” Dr. Jordan Baechler says. “You don’t have to be an award-winning scientist to know something is going on in our society.”
Health determines wealth, and vice versa
As much as 80 percent of our health is determined by what medical professionals call the 12 social determinants of health. According to Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” This includes how much money we make, which is tied to how much power we feel we have or we’re able to wield, and how much we exercise or treat ourselves right.
Dr. Jordan Baechler says wealth, or lack thereof, is something she regularly sees as having a profound impact on her patients’ relative health. Compared to higher net worth individuals, she says, individuals with lower incomes have lower self-reported health and greater health risks for chronic conditions. And on the other end of the spectrum, she sees patients who have financial stability but are constantly working at the expense of their health. When stress levels are high, whether from worrying about money or pressure at work, our body’s primary stress hormone, cortisol, kicks in. The danger to our health, she says, comes when our stress-response system is constantly activated and we’re overexposed to that stress hormone. “We have to work hard and smart at our jobs, health, and finances,” she says. “Burning out your cortisol is a recipe for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.”
Train for the best outcome
Angie O’Leary, head of Wealth Planning at RBC Wealth Management-U.S., underscores this theory. “Health and wealth will be forever intertwined, and as you age, it becomes even more intertwined,” she says. Better health can reduce health care spending, says O’Leary, and better financial planning can reduce some of the stress that Dr. Jordan Baechler points out can lead to poor health.
“Women who get a financial advisor—just like getting a physical trainer or dietician—are likely to see better outcomes. They’ll have greater confidence.”
O’Leary stresses that a financial advisor isn’t going to say you have to give up wellness or self-care costs to save only for the future—one of the pillars of good financial health is planning for your spending later and for your spending now. In fact, a good advisor will see those costs as wise investments, she says.
In fact, it’s the close but oft overlooked relationship between health and wealth that prompted RBC Wealth Management to host an event on the topic geared toward women last year. The goal was to encourage women not only to link the two, but to be planful and proactive on both fronts.
O’Leary compares financial planning to preventative health care, which can help prepare for the future.
“When I talk to women and ask if they have a financial advisor, many will say, ‘My stuff's not in order,’ but that’s like saying, ‘I can’t go to the gym until I’m in shape,’” says O’Leary. “We’re getting more accepting of health coaches. We need to expand coaching to financial health as well and start seeing financial health as preventive. You can prevent some pretty major mistakes in your financial success if you work with someone.”
Generational factors to wellness
Beyond individual health, there’s an interesting link between generational health and economic wellbeing. According to a 2019 data analysis from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Millennials are seeing their health decline faster than the previous generation, both physically and mentally.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield study summarizes that “Poorer health among Millennials will keep them from contributing as much to the economy as they otherwise would.” This is where preventive care and wellness become paramount—the basic pillars of good diet, exercise and sleep—to turn those numbers around. And the pillars of financial health also come into play to bolster economic stability.
Millennials aren’t the only generation with lifestyle factors to consider. O’Leary notes that Boomer women often outlive male spouses, and longer lifespans make planning for the future—another financial health pillar—even more integral to our well-being.
Anxiety about your economic future is damaging to mental health, O’Leary says.
“We know if we eat a diet higher in vegetables and lower in fat, that’s preventive healthcare. We’ve learned to ask ourselves, ‘How do I prevent a heart attack?’,” she says. “Now we have to learn to ask, ‘How do I prevent a crisis of turning 50 and not having considered retirement yet?’”
Jordan Baechler agrees. “[Women] put ourselves last all the time. [Women] tend to prioritize everything besides our own health. We say, ‘I don’t have time for this, I’m too busy’ but we’re leaving smart dollars, investments, and future stability on the table. How do we make it easier to help people feel good and accomplish all areas—career, health, and investment—because they’re so interconnected?”
Originally written by Mpls.St.Paul Magazine in collaboration with RBC Wealth Management.