In personal finance circles, there’s a lot of talk about interest and index funds, IRAs and 401(k)s, work, savings, passive income, real estate, and so on. But there’s one type of investment that isn’t discussed as often: investing in your health.
It’s understandable. After all, nobody’s going to pay you for eating a salad. But in the long term, investing in your health can have a significant financial upside (not to mention all the intangible lifestyle benefits).
Here are some of the ways that investing in your health can (literally) pay off.
Save on Health Insurance and Medical Expenses
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first.
The healthier you are, the less of an insurance risk you are, which translates into lower premiums on health and life insurance.
Here are eight main factors that insurance companies typically use to determine your risk profile, which influences what kinds of quotes you’ll get. (As you’ll see, most are things you can’t control–unless you find the Fountain of Youth–but some are influenceable.)
- Tobacco use
- Body mass index (BMI)
- Gender–women usually pay more than men
- Pre-existing conditions
- Family history
- Geographic location
For most people, insurance won’t cover everything, leaving you responsible for some out-of-pocket medical costs. These can be extremely expensive, especially in the U.S.
Of course, no matter how intentional and careful you are, unpreventable conditions and accidents can happen to anyone. But when it comes to others, there are ways to reduce your risk factors, translating to less time in the doctor’s office, fewer bills in your mailbox, and lower medication costs.
Become More Effective at Work
Regardless of how physical your actual job is, investing in your health can benefit your career. A healthy body is scientifically shown to go hand in hand with a healthy brain. The better your brain functions, the better you’ll perform at work. You’ll probably also take fewer sick days and be able to spend your PTO days on vacation instead of recovering from illness at home.
People with healthy lifestyles also tend to have more energy, which means you can accomplish more in the time you have. It also prepares you to pursue the best opportunities, like actively pursuing a promotion, more advanced degree, or new job at a different company.
This connection can go both ways, however. If you’re not happy with your job, it can negatively affect your physical and mental health. It’s important to take inventory of how your work is actually affecting your life. Tracking your happiness can be a very helpful strategy in determining how much exactly you like your work. If you sacrifice too much happiness for your work, then it’s bound to eventually affect your health and other aspects of your life as well, which will sabotage your efforts to improve your health and get ahead at work.
Ultimately, mentally sharp and energetic people do better work and get noticed. (Don’t confuse energy with extroversion, though–energetic introverts are just as efficient.)
Save Money by Enjoying Frugal Active Hobbies
When it comes to recreation, people who stay healthy and active have tons of cheap options. Walking is 100% free, minus any gas money to get to your favorite spots. Hiking and running might add the cost of shoes/clothing (use my tips here on how to buy them cheaply online!). Other active hobbies like biking, kayaking, and rock climbing come with some up-front costs, but little recurring ones other than periodic equipment upgrading or maintenance.
Of course, there are expensive active options too, like joining a Crossfit gym, and cheap sedentary options, like playing chess–but ultimately, being an active person gives you options to enjoy the best of both worlds. Also try a few of these hobbies you can monetize.
Reduce Food Costs (Healthy Cooking Is Cheaper Than Takeout)
Vegetables, beans, rice, fruit, whole grains, and other healthy foods don’t have to be expensive. Usually, the less prepared something is when you buy it, the cheaper it is, so buy raw ingredients instead of frozen meals or takeout. Just learn a few basics, buy on sale and in bulk, and cooking for yourself can save you a lot of money.
Reduce Transportation Costs by Walking or Biking to Work
If you live close enough to work for this to be possible, you can kill two birds with one stone: exercise and save money at the same time. Instead of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a nice day, you’ll be enjoying the fresh air. Gas isn’t free, but using your legs is.
Simple Ways to Begin Investing in Your Health
Start investing in your health by prioritizing these eight lifestyle activities.
1. Don’t smoke/use tobacco. If you already do, put maximum effort into quitting. In addition to the lung cancer risk, it can damage other organs including your heart, skin, eyes, and bones. (Plus, cigarettes are expensive: imagine how much money you can save by quitting them.)
2. Get regular exercise. Seriously, it’s the single best thing you can do for your physical and cognitive health. Regular exercise improves memory and thinking skills, reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer, bolsters the immune system, builds stronger bones, helps prevent diabetes…and the list goes on.
3. Eat as many vegetables as possible. This is pretty much the best thing you can do after exercise. Studies show that a diet rich in vegetables (and certain fruits) lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes, improves vision, digestion, and blood pressure, and helps promote feelings of satiety, which can aid in limiting calories for weight loss. Plus, they contain plenty of protein, complex carbs, and micronutrients to help you meet daily nutritional goals.
4. Avoid sugar and heavily processed foods. Sugar consumption is linked with diseases from cancer to dementia, and increases the risk of dying from heart disease. Many processed foods (especially “low-fat” foods) pack in the sugar, salt, and empty carbs to help them taste better and stay preserved longer, but it’s bad news for everything except your taste buds. Regular consumption of ultra-processed foods is correlated with cancer risk.
5. Limit dairy. Despite clever marketing by the dairy industry, the question “got milk?” should probably be answered with “no.” Milk drinkers have more heart disease and cancer, and a higher risk of premature death. It doesn’t even seem to be good for your bones, since countries with the highest dairy consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Women who drank the most milk also had the highest risk of bone fractures.
6. If you drink, drink moderately. Some alcohol types are better than others: beer is high in carbs, drinks with mixers are usually high in sugar and calories, and dark liquors contain “cogeners,” toxic chemicals produced during the fermentation process. Red wine and clear liquors are the “healthier” alcohols. (That said, if you don’t drink, there really aren’t compelling health reasons to start doing so.)
7. Stay hydrated. Coffee and soda don’t count; caffeine is a diuretic that can speed up fluid loss. Carry a reusable water bottle with you and remind yourself to drink regularly. Aim to follow recommendations of at least eight 8-ounce glasses per day. Drinking water also saves money because unlike soda and coffee, water is free.
8. Get enough sleep. Last but most certainly not least, sleep is critical for a healthy body and brain. The working world often seems like a competition for who can get the least sleep, but this is counterproductive (in the literal sense–sleep deprivation costs the U.S. $411 billion in lost productivity). Plus, it causes car accidents, heart problems, stroke, depression, memory problems, weight gain, and other increased risks of death. Get your 7-8 hours.
Set Yourself Up to Make the Most of Retirement
Whether you retire early or on schedule, let’s face it…we all want to spend that time doing things we enjoy. Too many people spend their lives working, only to drop dead a few years into retirement because they neglected their health. By investing in your health, you can actually put all that money you’re saving to good use.
Work hard, but maintain a balance; putting in 80-hour weeks isn’t physically or mentally sustainable. Save as much as you can, but not by living off of the dollar menu at McDonalds. Develop good habits that improve your quality of life while saving you money.
Start investing in your health as soon as possible, because much like investing in the stock market, these are benefits that most certainly compound over time.
Kate is a writer and editor who runs her content and editorial businesses remotely while globetrotting as a digital nomad. So far, her laptop has accompanied her to New Zealand, Asia, and around the U.S. (mostly thanks to credit card points). Years of research and ghostwriting on personal finance led her to the FI community and co-founding DollarSanity. In addition to traveling and outdoor adventure, Kate is passionate about financial literacy, compound interest, and pristine grammar.