Fiscal-fitness2“The greatest wealth is health.”

Now is the time of year that many people join gyms, go on diets, and vow to get in shape or drop those pounds. Some want to feel better, others aspire to lose the holiday weight gain. A few set New Year’s resolutions to conquer a mountain or a marathon. Still others desire to attract a mate, and some frugal souls simply want to fit back into their clothes to avoid buying a new wardrobe in a larger size!

Whatever the reason, ‘tis the season to focus on health. And even with the cost of gym memberships or vitamins, that is a good thing for your long-term WEALTH!

There has long been understood to be a relationship between health and wealth, but which begets which can be a bit of a chicken-and-egg debate. Do people live longer and healthier because they are wealthy? Or do people who prioritize health enjoy greater wealth to go with it?

The answer is “Yes,” and “Yes!” A 2012 poll from the Canadian Medical Association shows a strong correlation between higher incomes and health. While 68% of those earning $60,000 a year or more described their health as “very good” or “excellent,” only 39% of those earning less than $30,000 a year said the same. Those with the lowest incomes were also almost 50% more likely to report being diagnosed with a chronic condition than those with highest incomes.

There are many reasons why the wealthy tend to be healthier… for instance, they can afford quality healthcare, food, and supplements. Other studies reveal that healthy habits are not simply the result of higher incomes, but the cause as well. A study published in the June 2012 issue of Journal of Labor Research showed that regular exercisers earned 9% more than their otherwise similar counterparts!

The health and wealth connection has also been substantiated by Thomas J. Stanley’s research. Author of The Millionaire Next Door and Millionaire Women Next Door, Stanley found that self-made millionaires tended to have certain habits in common. They sleep a respectable average of 7-1/2 hours a night, rise early (most by 6 a.m.), and exercise an average of 3-1/2 hours per week.

Far from a silver spoon privilege, increased health correlates with many factors beyond income level, such as personal choices, habits, education, and mindset. Attitude is one such factor. Those with an optimistic lookout not only live an average of seven years longer, but they are also more likely to become millionaires.

Exercise is not only good for one’s wealth and well-being, but for our country’s wealth and well-being! Research presented in May 2012 at the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research 2012 Scientific Sessions showed a compelling correlation between exercise, long-term health, and lower health care costs.  The many-year study tracked 20,489 healthy people, finding that participants who exercised and stayed fit had 38% lower medical costs many years later, as measured by Medicare and other insurance claims from 1999 through 2009. The savings in Medicare claims alone was nearly $2,000 per year for each person who exercised regularly!

The study confirmed that even mid-life fitness habits meant later-life economic savings. As the study’s author, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center research fellow Dr. Justin Backmann states, “We found that fitness confers dividends later in life even when other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and obesity are controlled for.”

Conversely, poor health habits tend to correlate to lower incomes. Studies have demonstrated that those with lower income levels are more likely to smoke, in spite of the high cost of cigarettes. Shockingly, although cigarettes can cost upwards of $10 in some states (due to taxes), people earning only $6,000 – $11,999 were most likely to smoke cigarettes, spending an average of 14% of their income on cigarettes! Research from Gallup demonstrates that the unemployed smoke more than those who work part-time, full-time, voluntarily or not at all.

Gallup research also revealed that the unemployed exercised significantly less than retirees and full-time workers. Furthermore, they ate fewer fruits and vegetables than retirees and those who worked full time. It is often argued that people lower incomes simply can’t afford healthy food, but as they are more likely to buy soda and other empty-calorie food, the problem may be more educational and cultural than economic.

Do the wealthy have any unhealthy habits not shared by the poor? Yes. One survey from Prince & Associates (a firm that researches the habits of the rich) showed that those with significant wealth were much more likely to engage in cosmetic procedures and elective surgery which often carry health risks and recovery times. 58%  of respondents with more than $10 million in assets had already had plastic surgery, with a whopping 81% saying they would have it in the next two years. And according to Gallup research, those with incomes over $75k per year are also the most likely to drink alcohol, with lower income Americans earning $20k or less the least likely to drink.

What can you do to increase your wealth and well-being this year? January is a perfect time to stop making excuses and start making changes! If you want to increase your health as well as your wealth, make an all-year-long resolution this and every year to eat exercise regularly, fresh fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid tobacco, junk food, and excessive alcohol consumption. Healthy habits increase your chances of lasting wealth as well as health!

Five simple tips to up-level your health:

1. Sign up for fitness, yoga, or Zumba classes with a friend for accountability.

2. Join groups that hike, bike, or engage in other healthy activities.

3. Think optimistically about the future.

4. Grow your own vegetables (even on a deck or balcony) with a vertical garden.

5. Budget more for prevention such as quality supplements and you’ll likely need less for health care. (Next week we’ll show you how to do that with pre-tax dollars!)

Do you need a New Year financial check-up? Contact us to strategize solutions for your financial situation.