In the search for a healthy body and brain many folks exercise, improve their diet and try to get more sleep.
But research now shows there’s another factor they probably should pay more attention to: Their bank account.
Studies on the link between financial health and brain health reveal that being more affluent can actually help your memory.
A new study by French researchers analyzed the effects of income instability on Americans.1
The 20-year study examined the brain health of 3,287 Americans who were aged 23 to 35 years old at the beginning of the research. Among other things, the researchers looked for correlations to their household income. The analysis tracked income changes during that time. Plus, during the study a subset of the subjects were given thinking and memory tests as well as brain scans.
The people in the study who had experienced two or more income drops saw bigger reductions in performance in the brain tasks at the end of the study than folks whose income had not dropped. And the scans showed that these people also experienced more brain shrinkage and greater loss of neuronal connectivity than people with steadier incomes.
In other words, if you bounce around between jobs, and your income goes up and down, becoming inconsistent and undependable, your brain will probably show signs of being undependable too.
“Our results provide evidence that higher income volatility and more income drops during peak earning years are linked to unhealthy brain aging in middle age,” warns researcher Leslie Grasset of the Inserm Research Center in Bordeaux France.
This isn’t the first study to suggest that a person’s financial situation can impact their overall brain health.
Financial Pressure Can Equal Brain Pressure
For example, there’s now a fairly widespread dangerous brain condition with the tongue-twisting name “idiopathic intracranial hypertension” whose incidence has rapidly increased in the U.S. during the past twenty years. It occurs when the pressure of the fluid surrounding the brain rises drastically. If you develop the syndrome, you can experience extremely painful headaches that affect your vision. Some victims of this condition even need surgery to fix the problem.
And while the condition is most strongly linked to being overweight, among women it’s also associated with “socioeconomic” factors, such as being on the bottom rung of the financial system. In other words, if you’re poor, your chances of this problem rise significantly.2
Likewise, a Canadian study shows that stroke victims in that country who are challenged financially face more obstacles in recovering from their strokes – even though Canada has universal healthcare provided by the government.
The researchers conclude that for impoverished patients, their poor financial condition can “interfere with their health and recovery following acute stroke.”3
Now, since so many studies show that having more money means possessing better brain health and generally having better physical health, does that mean you should become a workaholic and make getting rich your life’s goal?4
Not necessarily. Other research shows that if you merely manage your personal finances a little more studiously and make prudent financial choices, it may also improve your brain function as you get older and help you maintain your independence in daily life.5
Of course, when it comes to your mental and emotional well-being money isn’t everything.
Earning a Good Salary Isn’t Enough
You might have a job that pays really well, but your work is annoying, stressful and unfulfilling. Research suggests that, in this case, having more money in the bank may not be enough to overcome your lack of job satisfaction.
A separate study at Ohio State demonstrates that being unhappy with your career can lead to depression, anxiety and insomnia. But the research also shows that if your job satisfaction improves during your years in the workforce your health also usually improves.6
“We found that there’s a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s,” says researcher Jonathan Dirlam.
In this study, mental health was most strongly influenced by how folks felt about their jobs. Low satisfaction led to greater levels of depression and sleep difficulties, excessive worrying and emotional problems.
The takeaway here, in my opinion, is not to neglect your financial health or your emotional well-being. You don’t want to be poor if you can help it. You also don’t want to spend years working at a job that you hate just for the almighty dollar.
It appears that when you’re able to meet your financial needs and your emotional needs at the same time, your body will grow more resilient and your brain has a better chance of remaining healthy and sharp as you age.