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Better Health Equals Better Finances?

Lower cholesterol better financesOne of the things I love about being 40 is that I have two decades of adult life to reflect back on. I’ve been through the decade of big hair and lived to tell about it. One thing I hate about being 40 is the increased amount of effort and money it takes just to maintain. I am already struggling with cholesterol, but I’m not giving up. I’m going to listen to Twisted Sister singing about how “We’re Not Gonna Take It” but it will be directed at Lipitor instead of my parents this time. It’s really funny how better health is very related to better finances, and I can’t help draw comparisons as I try to do better with both.

My Genetics

I was not blessed with generations of relatives who lived to be 100. Aside from my Grandma, who lived to the great age of 91, everyone dies around their mid 70’s, usually after a decade of pills, hospital visits, and not the quality of life I hope to enjoy.

However, I don’t ever remember a relative really putting up much of a fight other than to add a new prescription from the pharmacy. There wasn’t much giving up of fried food or sodium, and the only exercise I’ve seen is maybe jumping up from the couch while watching a Kentucky basketball game.

The Cholesterol Curse

The first time I ever had my cholesterol tested was at age 25 when I took my residency position with the federal government. You had to have a pretty thorough physical, and I was surprised to learn that my cholesterol was hovering just under 200, which is the high level of normal. My good/bad ratio was fine, so I never really paid much attention until last April when I had it checked again to find the total cholesterol was at 213. The ratio was still OK, but not great. The worst thing was that my triglycerides were at 233, which is certainly over the normal limit of 150. While this isn’t off the charts bad, I did not like the pattern.

First of all, I was mad. I don’t eat terribly, and I exercise a lot, so this was just not fair.  After my little pity party, I realized that I can use my genetics as an excuse and continue to see my numbers rise, eventually going on medicines, and probably dying at age 75.

Or, I can do something about it.

My Plan For Lifelong Health

Cue the theme from Rocky now. Since last year, I’ve tried to eat even better, cut out more processed foods, and continue to exercise. I’ve never eaten eggs or much red meat, so I think it must be the carbs that turn to triglycerides in my system. I did a free cholesterol screening a couple of weeks ago at the health department to see where I stood.

I was very happy that my triglycerides are down to 168, and my good/bad ratio has improved, although my total cholesterol is still at 208, which I guess might just be normal for me. This is a huge improvement, but I am determined to do better.

There is a health fair in early May where I can get a full blood workup. I am determined to get the triglycerides below 150. I will do this by eating mostly vegetarian and exercising my butt off. Vegan veggie patties are delicious, even if they look a little green. I even did a three day juice cleanse last week that was not fun, but I am determined.

Good Health Equals Good Finances?

If my numbers are good, then I know what I have to do. I have to work twice as hard as someone without a bad genetic history. I might have to spend a bit more at the grocery to buy fresh produce instead of processed food. I know if I ever give up, my cholesterol and triglycerides will go through the roof. This is lifelong. I can’t say that I won’t ever eat chips or cookies again, but I am determined to beat my family history.

It’s funny how health is a ton like personal finance. John at Frugal Rules and I seem to share a similar thought pattern as he is going through some of the same issues that I am. If you sit back and do nothing, circumstances will take over. It’s easy to use a lousy economy or low wages as an excuse, just like I could blame my clogging arteries on family. It’s also easy to say that you’d rather enjoy life by eating what you want or buying what you want, but broke people or those dying of a heart attack don’t generally say they are super happy with the choices they made.

I also believe it’s really hard to concentrate on your health when your finances are in the toilet. Once that aspect is under control, you have other areas to put your energy into. I don’t think I ever even thought about my cholesterol when we owed so much to the credit card companies, and I bet the stress that comes with debt didn’t help my health very much either. I don’t think better health automatically equals better finances, but having the ability to buy more fresh organic things and concentrate on my health is a huge  help at this point in my life.

I’m happy for those who don’t have to do much to stay healthy, just like I’m happy for those who are independently wealthy. The rest of us just have to work a bit harder for better health and finances. Here’s to hoping I’m still lapping people at age 90.

What health challenges are you facing? Have you used a circumstance beyond your control as an excuse not to do better?

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About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I work in health care and see diseases caused by or complicated by life style choices every day. I have to hurry and make changes as I move in to my 50s or I could be in big trouble financially.

    Illness would mean that I have to stop work when I was forced to and not follow my own path. Illness may also mean that I have to continue working to keep my employer supplied drug plan if I have high drug costs.

    I stand all day and anyone who is not a healthy weight begins to struggle and I need to lose a few pounds to take the stress off my joints so I can continue to work. I had nachos and salsa for supper last night. I need to make some changes.

  2. I have challenging genetics when it comes to weight gain, so that’s why I exercise a ton and pretty much always have to keep an eye on what I eat. I really don’t want to end up obese and with diabetes or heart problems like others in my family.

  3. Like you, I work in health care so I write about health care from time-to-time. But a big reason I do that is not because I work in health care, but because I’ve been dealing with a couple of health issues the past 2 years or so. I maxed out my insurance the past two years and I’ve spent many hours at the doctor, all for things that are completely out of my hands. There was nothing I could do to prevent these things from happening or the conditions from forming.

    Needless to say, having an HSA (and contributing to it) should be a top priority for most people. Taking the money aspect out of your treatment course makes it much easier to deal with health issues appropriately.

  4. Several people have died of cancer on my dad’s side so I’m always paranoid! I just try to exercise and eat healthy 99% of the time. I recently quit drinking diet soda because of all of the terrible things I keep reading. I also quit artificial sweeteners along with it.

  5. I have survived big hair days as well, and to this day when I smell Aqua Net I get nostalgic for my youth. I was about 50 pounds over weight for 5 years after having my son. During a physical my doctor shared that my cholesterol had jumped and because of my weight I was in danger of developing diabetes. It was a huge wake up call for me. I have no idea how long I am going to live, but I want to be healthy while I am living it. I went on weight watchers, lost 50 pounds and have kept most of it off, and I have never felt better.

  6. I agree that it can be hard to concentrate on your health when you have crappy finances. It’s also so sad how cheap, processed foods are what’s accessible to people who struggle with money. It’s creating a really vicious cycle. I’m 100% with you on trying to stay healthy now to avoid major medical bills in the future. I come from a decent gene pool, except that there have been a lot of bouts with cancer — especially skin. I’m a crazy person about covering up, wearing sun screen and big hats. I also like when people make the correlation between finances and food ie: eating junk food is like taking money out of your retirement fund.

  7. Good for you for taking charge. While I am incredibly grateful for how advanced medicine has become, so many people just choose to take the pill without any lifestyle change. I do my best to eat healthy and get plenty of exercise. I admit that sometimes I get nervous when see people who cut their grocery bills to bare bones to throw extra money at their debt. Obviously in some cases the situation is dire enough where they don’t have a choice. On the flip side, keeping a little extra money so you’re eating healthy to me is okay. Yes, it may mean you pay a little more in interest and deal with your debt a little longer, but eating healthy helps keeps you healthy. Getting sick is expensive too.

  8. Between my mom and dad’s family, we’ve had a bunch of medical issues. Of everything, I’ve only been dealing with blood pressure issues so far. Fortunately those are only mild and controllable with medication and exercise. I try not to think about what health issues I might have in the future…that simply doesn’t seem productive. I can only do my best in the present to take care of myself. I’ll face whatever issues the future holds when they arrive.

  9. I have a feeling we can relate a lot on this topic as well. My dad does a good job of adjusting as he gets older and keeping healthy and active, but my mom is another story. Quite frankly it’s honestly a miracle she is still alive because she almost died a couple times and takes horrible care of herself. It’s like she doesn’t care. She isn’t fat, but she is skinny fat. I don’t get the cholesterol problem, but I do get the HBP gene 🙁 I’m pre-hypertensive, and aside from the healthy eating and exercise I already do, the only thing that can be improved upon is stress. And thats why I’m really trying to change my work situation. It’s causing a huge amount of stress and no amount of yoga and exercise can help that unless I get to the core of the problem. I want to live a long time, but only if those are good, healthy years.

  10. I LOVE the Twisted Sister reference! I think it can be hard to focus on health when your finances are in the gutter as I think they can be somewhat linked. In terms of me personally, there has been a number of individuals on my Dad’s side of the family that dies from cancer so that is something that has been increasingly on my mind lately and much of which I’m making serious changes. My Mom was adopted, so God only knows for that side. What I do know is that since I’ve cut so much of the processed foods and refined sugars out of my routine I feel like I have so much more energy as well as other positive changes which only encourage me to continue as opposed to looking for excuses like I have in the past. Thanks for the mention as well Kim. 🙂

  11. It’s hard to say of good health leads to good finances, or vice-versa. I have some longevity on my dad’s side, but my Moms side is weak. I think factor out the smoking and drinking, and they would have fared better.

  12. ” If you sit back and do nothing, circumstances will take over”. LOVE this statement, Kim. Our biggest struggle right now, is, of course, our money situation. The payoff is going slower than we’d like, and it’s real tempting to throw our hands up in the air and give up. But like with you and your cholesterol, that’s just not an option for us. I’m so impressed with your decision to fight even harder to get that cholesterol down, even though you are eating much better and exercising much more than most people, you’re committed to stepping it up. That, my friend, is the difference between success and failure.

  13. Health is my priority number one. After college I got into running, became a vegetarian, lost 20 pounds, and have never looked back.

    • I really think I could be a vegetarian if I were single. My family does like chicken, so that would be a hard staple to replace. I don’t think I could get away with substituting tofu, although I have tricked them with Boca crumbles and it wasn’t too bad.

  14. I’ve undergo colonoscopy before and it cost us a lot of money. I learned a lot of lessons after that, and a few of them is to eat fruits and vegetables regularly, which I didn’t do before, and to minimize the times you eat beef as your main source of protein.

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