Posted Tuesday, 07/18/2017 - 10:00
It's a vicious cycle: Money is one of the greatest causes of stress, prolonged stress can lead to serious health issues, and health issues often result in yet more financial struggles. The clear connection between health and wealth is why it's so important to develop and maintain lifelong plans to manage both.
The big picture
Consider the following statistics:
- More than 20% of Americans say they have either considered skipping or skipped going to the doctor due to financial worries. (American Psychological Association, 2015)
- More than half of retirees who retired earlier than planned did so because of their own health issues or to care for a family member. (Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2017)
- Chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017)
- Chronic conditions make you more likely to need long-term care, which can cost anywhere from $21 per hour for a home health aide to more than $6,000 a month for a nursing home. (Department of Health and Human Services, 2017)
- A 65-year-old married couple on Medicare with median prescription drug costs would need about $265,000 to have a 90% chance of covering their medical expenses in retirement. (Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2017)
Develop a plan for long-term health...
The recommendations for living a healthy lifestyle are fairly straightforward: eat right, exercise regularly, don't smoke or engage in other risky behaviors, limit soda and alcohol consumption, get enough sleep (at least seven hours for most adults), and manage stress. And before embarking on any new health-related endeavor, talk to your doctor, especially if you haven't received a physical exam within the past year. Your doctor will benchmark important information such as your current weight and risk factors for developing chronic disease. Come to the appointment prepared to share your family's medical history, be honest about your daily habits, and set goals with your doctor.
Other specific tips from the Department of Health and Human Services include:
Nutrition: Current nutritional guidelines call for eating a variety of vegetables and whole fruits; whole grains; low-fat dairy; a wide variety of protein sources including lean meats, fish, eggs, legumes, and nuts; and healthy oils. Some medical professionals are hailing the long-term benefits of the so-called "Mediterranean diet." Details for a basic healthy diet and the Mediterranean diet can be found at health.gov/dietaryguidelines.
Exercise: Any physical activity is better than none. Inactive adults can achieve some health benefits from as little as 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. However, the ideal target is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity workouts per week. For more information, visit health.gov/paguidelines.
...and long-term wealth
The recommendations for living a financially healthy life aren't quite as straightforward because they depend so much on your individual circumstances. But there are a few basic principles to ponder:
Emergency savings: The amount you need can vary depending on whether you're single or married, self-employed or work for an organization (and if that organization is a risky startup or an established entity). Typical recommendations range from three months' to a year's worth of expenses.
Retirement savings: Personal finance commentator Jean Chatzky advocates striving to save 15% of your income toward retirement, including any employer contributions. If this seems like a lofty goal, bear in mind that as with exercise, any activity is better than none — setting aside even a few dollars per pay period can lead to good financial habits. Consider starting small and then increasing your contributions as your financial circumstances improve.
Insurance: Make sure you have adequate amounts of health and disability income insurance, and life insurance if others depend on your income. You might also consider long-term care coverage.
Health savings accounts: These tax-advantaged accounts are designed to help those with high-deductible health plans set aside money specifically for medical expenses. If you have access to an HSA at work, consider the potential benefits of using it to help save for health expenses.