We often talk about physical health, how improving your health can result in lower health care costs and a longer life. But did you realize that your financial health can also impact your physical health?
A recent study by Fidelity and the Stanford Center on Longevity surveyed 9,000 people to ask about how their physical health and wealth are interconnected. The relationship between the two types of health lies in stress, most often caused by financial woes.
Debt causes stress, which in turn causes physical health problems, and these problems are affected by gender. Seventy percent of women said that acquiring debt increased their stress, while only 47 percent of men felt the same stress from debt.
So how does debt-related stress manifest itself? According to the survey, people reported sleeping less, gaining weight and becoming less active. In all these areas, women were twice as likely as men to report these challenges. What happens when you pay this debt? Everyone feels satisfaction and happiness, but women reported feeling a higher degree of stress release at 44 percent than men did at 37 percent.
Debt is a part of most of our lives. Unless we are born with a silver spoon in our mouth or a healthy trust fund, we owe someone a debt. We owe on our credit cards, our vehicles and our homes, and we even owe a debt to our retirement accounts that we don’t fully fund. If debt results in stress and we are debtors, what can we do to reduce the effects of this stress until we can manage to pay it off?
Take control. It is important that we take control of our debt and take steps to reduce it, even if they are only baby steps.
The first step for most of us is tallying our debts. Sit down with pen in hand or computer spreadsheet in front of you and make a list. Look up credit card balances and note the percentage rate and the minimum payment due each month. Some of us have education loans to pay off. Again, note the amount, interest rate and the date the payment is due. Car loans, mortgages and any other debt should all be put on the list.
Now comes the hard part — add it up. This is sometimes a sobering moment when we figure out how much we really owe. However, if we don’t know the total, we can’t take steps to reduce the debt.
Make a plan. Find a few extra dollars in your budget to devote to reducing your debt. I always suggest that people pay the most expensive debt off first, which in most cases is your credit card debt. Most of us feel less stress when we have a plan. Even if you devote only a few dollars each month to debt relief, you can pat yourself on the back for moving toward less debt.
We’ve tallied, we have a plan, but the stress still exists. One way to reduce stress is to exercise. According to the same survey, when people started exercising, 56 percent felt less stress and 71 percent felt happier. Of those who stopped exercising, 69 percent reported feeling less happy.
I’d like to offer one more way to reduce stress in your life: take yourself less seriously. Laugh a little. Enjoy the small moments in life that, in general, are free. I love being in the company of my family. My husband is a hoot and always finds a way to make me smile. My children and grandchildren are a joy (most of the time anyway). Life is an adventure and meant to be enjoyed. Live in the moment and you’ll never regret it. Your health, both physical and fiscal, will thank you.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (907)474-7201