Health and Money: 10 Ways Your Financial Wealth Impacts Your Health

Chang Fu
May 10, 2021

Today, the most important piece of gym equipment is the ATM. 

In the past decade, consumer credit debt alone has more than doubled, increasing by nearly 58 percent from about $2,663,780 to $4,205,759 according to the Federal Reserve. That’s bad news for our health and money, as researchers continue to link financial wellness with overall health. 

Studies have found that unsecured debt is directly related to poor health, and such research has revealed that low-income individuals are adversely affected by the psychological and physical effects of financial stress — including debt from loans. As the cycles of money insecurity and poor health perpetuate one another, they eventually manifest into tangible concerns including depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and weight gain. 

In this post, we explore how finances play into fitness, plus how to improve your relationship between health and money, according to the experts. 

Table of Contents:

Health vs. Wealth

Ancient Greek physician, Herophilus, has been cited as the mastermind behind the phrase, “when health is absent, wealth becomes useless.” Today, the saying has been modified to simply, “health is better than wealth.” 

What Does ‘Health Is Better Than Wealth’ Mean?
- You can be happy with good health and no money, but you can’t be happy with money and poor health.
- The idiom illustrates that no matter how much money you have if you’re not healthy, you can’t be happy because you’re worried about mortality.

Let’s compare this Greek ideology alongside modern research that suggests your financial wellbeing plays a direct role in your physiological wellness. 

Wealth is Health

While money may not buy happiness, research continues to correlate the relationship between health and money, namely, financial stress and poor physical and psychological health. To put it simply, money provides healthcare, and healthcare is the basis of wellbeing. 

Outside of an argument for either health or wealth being better than the other, let’s explore how your financial life is intertwined with your physical and mental wellbeing. 

Financial Stress and Health

Money is a basic need to survive. When you don’t have a means of survival, it can be compounded into stress. The Stress in America report analyzes national stress levels annually. In 2020, 64 percent of adults indicated money being a significant stressor, and over half experienced negative financial effects due to COVID-19. 

“[Financial] stress can result in significant mental health disorders … and acutely lead to headaches, heart palpitations, chest pain, weight gain/loss, and problems with your sleep. Over the long term, this can result in high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes, to name a few chronic health conditions. The symptoms are also not mutually exclusive and can actually feed into one another.”

—Judy Wright, MD, JW Health Consulting, LLC

Chronic stress over time creates not only mental health challenges but also negative physical reactions such as digestive problems, immune disorders, sleeplessness, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

How Your Money Impacts Your Mind

Money and mental health have a reciprocal relationship. Namely, negative feelings can translate into spending habits that perpetuate debt. A study about the psychosocial context of financial stress reveals that people with debt are three times more likely to suffer from mental health problems. When you’re constantly concerned about money and the ability to pay bills, your body reacts with a trauma response.

Poor money habits continue the cycle of negative feelings, making it difficult to improve one without improving the other. 

  1. Depression: Money insecurity can lead to feelings of depression. Oftentimes low-income situations lead to a feeling of hopelessness. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, there’s a sense of entrapment, and it’s difficult to see further than what’s immediately in front of you. 
    • How to combat: Ask for help from friends or family and seek professional help if the feelings become life-threatening. 
  1. Anxiety: When you have money concerns, they can often turn into hypervigilance about what could go wrong in every situation. Because you’re not in a position to support emergencies, a single unexpected expense could cause financial ruin and therefore becomes a source of anxiety. That stress, in turn, can lead to nervousness to improve your financial situation and continues a cycle of mental hardship.
    • How to combat: Don’t ignore money problems. Start with small financial goals and build confidence in your ability to improve your situation. 
  1. Low Self-Esteem: It’s in our nature to want to provide the basic necessities for ourselves and our loved ones. When we have financial stress, there’s a lack of perceived power and worth. 
    • How to combat: Consider money affirmations to visualize abundance and improve self-worth. 
  1. Memory Impairment: Financial instability can create memory loss because you tend to be reactive instead of proactive in response to situations. As anxieties and stress come up from different expenses that are difficult to manage, it causes an inability to compartmentalize other aspects of your life. 
    • How to combat: Practice self-reflection regularly. Consider creating a budget to log income and expenses.  

Despite the global prevalence of psychological disorders, with upwards of 4 percent of the world’s population suffering from mental illness at any given time, these issues haven’t been considered a priority for policymakers and economists. 

statistic that low earners are 1.5 to 3x more likely to suffer from mental illness

Anxiety responses are activated by personal factors and situational influences — such as the financial strain of COVID-19 across entire communities. Exacerbated by the pandemic, mental health disorders uncovered decision-making processes that directly relate to ongoing poverty in our society. Today, mental healthcare has come to the forefront as a tool for poverty reduction. 

How Finances Play Into Fitness

As mental health is impacted by financial concerns, the probability of adverse physical effects increases. For example, a constant state of anxiety increases cortisol levels. Increased cortisol can result in: 

  1. High Blood Pressure: Consistent stress over time creates tension from high cortisol levels. When these levels are heightened for a prolonged period, they can result in chronically high blood pressure. 
    • How to combat: Practice relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises to reduce hypertension and lower blood pressure. 
  2. Headaches: Muscle tension from heightened stress can cause headaches and migraines. 
    • How to combat: Hydrate with room temperature water to calm your nerves. 
Americans avoid medical care because of costs

Stress is a reaction to external threats that causes your body to produce adrenaline. Adrenaline is a hormone that prompts increased breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure known as “fight or flight.” This is a reaction that occurs in order to protect ourselves from the proposed threat. 

  1. Sleep Problems: Insomnia is often a result of feeling out of control, whether with money or otherwise. Additionally, coping mechanisms such as drugs, alcohol, and unhealthy eating can negatively impact sleep quality. 
    • How to combat: Stick to a consistent sleep cycle to improve your day-to-day memory, productivity, and focus.
  2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Early-in-life stress and abnormalities to your nervous system can lead to IBS. Financial stress can inhibit signals from your brain to your large intestine causing this gastrointestinal effect.
    • How to combat: Properly manage your diet, lifestyle, and stress to ease symptoms. 
  3. Weight Gain: Weight gain is a compound result of multiple financial stressors. Lack of sleep, poor diet, depression, and anxiety can all lead to weight gain when not properly managed. 
    • How to combat: Take at least 15 minutes per day for physical activity and create a healthy diet within your means. 
  4. Medical Care Avoidance: The rising cost of healthcare has directly impacted those in low-income situations. Nearly one-third of Americans avoid medical care due to the perceived and actual cost. 

The long-term physical effects of COVID-19 will be staggering, as overwhelming job loss, debt, and financial insecurity created unprecedented financial stress across the world. When these stressors aren’t identified and addressed, they can lead to more serious and, in some cases, life-threatening health problems like heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

How to Improve Your Health and Money

Financial health isn’t about the number of zeros in your bank account. It’s about how your money management supports your overall life goals. The best strategies to improve health and money address both at once. 

“Financial health exists when people’s daily financial systems enable them to be resilient and pursue opportunities … to spend, save, borrow, and plan effectively.”

—The Urban Institute

The hormonal and chemical reactions to financial stress can be managed with proper exercise and mindfulness practices. Improve your health and money by creating a routine that includes movement, emotional connections, confidence boosts, a healthy diet, consistent sleep, and reflection. 

  • Physical activity: Not only can consistent movement lower overall healthcare costs, but it also improves cognitive function and results in higher energy levels. 
  • Ask for help: Money conversations with friends and family can provide emotional support, which improves the negative reaction to chronic stress. Seek unbiased third-party advice to identify and prioritize opportunities to improve wealth. 
  • Complete small goals: A study from Vanderbilt found that completing small goals increases dopamine levels, which can make us happier and inspire the confidence to tackle larger financial goals. 
  • Meditate: Meditation encourages self-awareness. This includes spending, stress levels, and overall happiness. By meditating, you train the brain to react rationally instead of emotionally in times of turmoil. 
  • Eat well: A healthy diet lessens the risk of health concerns that lead to high medical costs.
  • Get consistent sleep: Consistent sleep increases our energy levels, productivity, and focus. Getting six to nine hours of sleep each night can impact our bottom line with a higher earning potential. 
  • Spend time on reflection: Reflection holds us accountable to our daily actions, including spending habits. By reflecting on areas of improvement in our lives, we can in turn make better long-term financial decisions. 

Financial literacy impacts the ability to improve our financial lives, and it’s important to consider how money, mental health, and physical health are intertwined with overall wellness. 

infographic about how to improve health and money

By taking care of our health, we’re directly impacting our ability to regulate stress. When our stress is regulated, it’s easier to control financial stressors like unanticipated expenses, building credit, and paying back loans

Sources: Poverty, Depression, and Anxiety: Causal Evidence and Mechanisms | Urban Institute | The Effect of Exercise on Earnings | Bankrate | Gaziano

Chang Fu

Chang is an avid writer, among other things. He grew up loving reading and writing, creating his own poems and even a book he's now hidden in an old closet, unpublished. His financial experience at a large bank along with his passion for technology to help underserved communities inspired him to write for Possible.

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