6 ways maintaining physical and mental health really pays off

Healthy, Wealthy and Wealthier

by Jeffrey Yeager

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With all that is written these days about personal finance, I am astounded at how little has been published to explain the single most important factor in building long term wealth and securing financial freedom, which is the inseparable relationship between good health and good wealth. The old saying, "If you have your health, you have every thing," is as true in its application to financial planning as it is to life in general.

Here are six important ways in which maintaining the robust physical and mental health of you and your family really pays off.

Take Your Medicine

Medical and health care savings are probably the most apparent pay-off for maintaining a healthy mind and body. Even if you're covered under an employer-paid health care plan, the cost of deductibles, co-pays, and treatment for conditions and procedures not covered by your plan can really add up if you're unhealthy. An even more important thing to keep in mind is that the body you have today is the same body you will have when you retire. Even if medical and health care costs aren't a concern for you now, they will be your responsibility eventually, and it's far better to stay healthy than it is to try to get healthy when there's no more employer-paid health care to cover your medical costs.

Paying a Premium Price

Premiums paid for health care insurance, as well as life, disability, and catastrophic illness insurance, normally take into account your medical history. An even bigger concern if your health history is sufficiently poor, you may be denied coverage at any price, thereby setting the stage for you to potentially lose everything you have if your health fails or you're injured in an accident. And even auto insurance premiums, which take into account your driving record, including speeding tickets, accidents and DUIs, are ultimately influenced by health-related issues such as your stress level, mental health, eyesight, physical and mental agility, and use of drugs and alcohol.

Vice Squad

Smoking strikes me as the perfect storm of financial mismanagement. Not only do you have the cost of the cigarettes themselves, but you have significantly increased insurance and health care costs if you smoke, not to mention a documented increase in lost wages among smokers due to smoker-related illnesses. Where else can you get that kind of a triple-negative rate of return on an investment? And while another popular vice, alcohol consumption, may actually have some positive effects on maintaining good health when taken in moderation, beyond the level of moderation, the same perfect storm scenario applies.

Do It Yourself

There's also a direct correlation between physical health/fitness and the amount spent paying others to do things for you. As America's collective waistline has increased, the girth of our collective wallet has decreased as a result. With more than half of all Americans overweight, we're a nation of people who are less able to do things for ourselves. Not just small things, like washing your car, mowing the lawn, or cleaning your own house, but major lifetime expenses, like being physically able to care for an aging family member or undertake a major home repair project on your own. And, the more things you do for yourself, generally the healthier not just wealthier you become. As I'm fond of saying, "My house and yard is my fitness club, and workouts are free!"

Where Are You on the Food Chain?

Ironically, the wealthier a society becomes, generally the less healthy their diet becomes. Poorer people typically have a better diet than richer people, who can afford anything they want to eat and expensive healthcare to help compensate for their inferior diet. The higher up you go on the food chain, the more it usually costs and the unhealthier it usually becomes. Vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, etc. are low on the chain, and generally inexpensive and healthy. Meat of any kind is higher on the chain and more expensive. The same dynamic also applies to whole foods (cheaper/healthier) versus processed foods (more expensive/less healthy). Choose to eat lower on the food chain and you'll save on your grocery bill and improve your health at the same time.

Get Back to Work

In case you're not already convinced of the wisdom behind my health/wealth hypothesis, I've saved the biggest factor of all for last. Contrary to popular opinion, most people's largest asset is not their home or retirement savings. For most people, their single greatest asset is their ability to earn a living to produce a revenue stream. It doesn't take a financial genius to realize that your ability to remain gainfully employed is fundamentally dependent on maintaining your physical health, almost regardless of your field of employment. Without your health, your income is in peril and so is everything else.

In fairness to full disclosure, I should admit that there is one momentous financial drawback to maintaining a strong body and mind. You're likely to live far longer and therefore require significantly greater financial resources during your life than you otherwise might. But, as they say, consider the alternative.

Jeffrey Yeager has spent his career of more than 20 years in senior management positions with various national nonprofit organizations based in Washington, DC. When you work for a nonprofit organization, you're frugal for a living, so it's easy to be frugal in your personal life. Yeager is an honors graduate of Bowling Green State University in Ohio and was a Rhodes Scholar nominee.

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