Avoiding the Money Blues: Financial Planning

Four of the ten most stressful events in our lives are tied to our finances. Declaring bankruptcy, losing a job, changing jobs, and not being able to pay the bills—-these financial woes can cause just as much stress as almost anything. They can also cause needless ageing. More to the point, financial upsets can trigger a series of other events that can age you as well, such as a divorce or a major depression.

Because Dennis M. was at high risk of arterial disease, he used to come to my office four times a year for checkups. At his checkup in mid-April, Dennis's blood pressure was through the roof. 'Dennis,' I asked, 'what's wrong? Your blood pressure's always been borderline.' He didn't answer. When I had him come back in two weeks just to double-check, his blood pressure was back to its normal reading. Curious.

The next year, his appointment was on April 15, and the same thing happened. 'Dennis,' I asked, 'what's going on?'

'I don't know,' he replied.

'Is something bothering you? Tax man got you down?' I asked, half jokingly.

'As a matter of fact, yes,' he said, and then went into a litany of financial

Dennis owned his own business and paid taxes quarterly. Like many of us, he hated to pay the government so much as a day early. He always skimped on his quarterly payments and then, come April 15, wham! He owed a fortune. Yet, as clever as he was at delaying, he never planned well for actually paying his taxes. So, when April 15 came, he often owed money he didn't have. The panic set in, and his blood pressure went sky high. What he knew was that tax time caused him endless worry. What he didn't know was that it was causing him needless ageing as well. The high blood pressure was ageing his arteries. No doubt it threw his immune system out of whack, too.

'Dennis,' I said, 'with the amount of worrying the IRS is putting you through, they're getting something much more precious than dollars. They're taking years off your life.' I convinced him to come up with a financial plan that worked as a medical plan, keeping him from undergoing the needless stress and rise in blood pressure, that could cause him to have a heart attack. Until I met Dennis, I had never thought that being a good doctor would mean I would have to be a good financial consultant, too.

Although financial blues seem to have nothing to do with your biologic age, the rate of ageing does correlate with financial stability. The data aren't precise enough to say with complete certainty, but we can assume that one of the reasons why people of higher socio-economic class have lower rates of ageing is that they have greater financial stability. One financial upset is less likely to derail them.

Work and Stress: Don't Let Work Age You

Work can be a source of fulfillment and enjoyment but also of anxiety, worry, and ... stress. No matter how much we like our jobs, we still face deadlines, demands, and problems that can stress us. In addition, there is almost no job that doesn't involve the frustrations of office politics and power plays.

The more control individuals believe they have over their jobs, the more likely they are to remain healthy longer. That is, job satisfaction helps keep you young. This is one reason why health improves as the level of income rises. In general, higher-paid jobs tend to provide people with more flexibility, independence, and choices over their work. If your job makes you unhappy or unfulfilled, think about what you can do to change that fact. It may mean looking around for a new job or working with your employer to improve your present working conditions.

As much as we grumble about our jobs, the loss of our jobs ages us more than working does. Losing a job can make your RealAge as much as five years older. Such a loss is especially significant for men who are in the middle or late stages of their careers, and for whom job layoffs and firings have an especially pernicious ageing effect. Most likely, this gender gap has to do with traditional social roles, in which men are taught to believe that their jobs are the most central parts of their identities. Men who have lost their jobs, and even those who have retired of their own free will, are more than twice as likely to have a major ageing event than are men who remain continuously employed. The goal is to have work that makes us younger. If your job makes you older, you are definitely being overworked and underpaid!

Young Minds: Become a Lifelong Learner

Here's something you probably never learned in school: Going to school makes you younger. People who are better educated tend to stay younger longer. In fact, those who don't have high school diplomas are 30 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who do. Mortality rates are lower still for those with some college education or higher. And a better-educated spouse makes you younger, too. Why?

No one knows for sure, but there are many possible explanations. There is no direct cause-and-effect relationship. Taking calculus doesn't make your arteries less likely to get clogged. And failing your junior high school English exam doesn't mean you are more likely to get diabetes. Rather, these kinds of statistics result from a whole set of conditions that relate to levels of education and the way education can affect a person's life trajectory. Some of these reasons are purely economic, because people with more education are more likely to have better-paying jobs and greater financial stability. Correspondingly, they often have a higher socioeconomic standing, less exposure to occupational risks, better access to health care, and a whole range of other benefits that help slow the rate of ageing. In contrast, people with lower levels of education are often poorer, have more dangerous and tedious jobs, live in areas where pollution levels are higher, and tend to follow more damaging health practices. The jobs that those with lower educational levels have may also expose them to greater environmental hazards.

There are differences in other ways as well. People without a high school education are eight times more likely to smoke and are more likely to be overweight, not to exercise, and not to make healthy food choices. Educational levels are used by researchers to gauge an entire social world, as opportunities, limitations, and social and health behaviors correlate with education.

The relationship between health, youth, and education is enormously complex, and no study will ever completely untangle the web. For one thing, the data are too imprecise. But despite the problems in correlating education with health, most of the studies try to adjust for confounding variables, such as income, social class, and social stresses. However, even when variables are accounted for, a higher level of education still procures a RealAge benefit. For example, we all probably know people with high levels of education who don't make a lot of money: Think of the person who has spent years training to be a classical musician or who is getting a doctorate in medieval history. People who do not make a lot of money but love what they do stay younger longer.

Why? No one knows exactly, but there are certain clues. One theory is that education increases access to information, including information about health. People who read more are also more likely to pay attention to the news; to think about their health; and to exercise, eat right, and avoid habits that can cause needless ageing.

Another reason appears to be education itself. Mental acuity is something that diminishes with age. However, the variation from one person to another is tremendous. Some people lose that acuity rapidly; others retain a rapier wit and an ability for clever repartee until the day they die. Indeed, it is hard to talk about averages because so many people defy the trends. The object of RealAge is to learn how to be one of those whose mental acuity doesn't diminish. Education seems to play an important role in achieving this goal.

Education, either through formal or informal methods, is one of the things that keeps your mind in shape. It makes sense, too. For example, the jobs that require high levels of education are often the ones that provide stimulation and variety. They are jobs in which you keep learning while you're working.

What does this mean for you? Keeping your mind engaged will keep you young. Chances are, if you are reading this book, you are already doing just that. You have a curiosity about your life. Chances are, too, that you are somewhere past school age. So, the question remains, How can you make education a part of your adult life?

No matter who you are, there are many ways of ensuring that your mind is active and young. First, it's never too late to go back to school. Don't let your calendar age stop you. Not all of us had the opportunity to go to college when we were eighteen. Even if you do have a degree, you may have developed other interests since you were twenty-one. I had a neighbor who obtained her bachelor's degree at age eighty-one. When I asked her what she was going to do next, she told me, 'I'm thinking about getting a Ph.D.' She's the best example of what RealAge is all about: someone who takes advantage of the disparity between her calendar age and RealAge to do the things she's always wanted to do.

Consider taking a class in something you're interested in, whether it's philosophy or computers. It doesn't have to be academic. A crafts class at a local community center will help broaden your horizons. Creating lifetime learning doesn't mean you have to love school. There are many ways of stimulating your mind that don't require getting grades: going to museums, reading, taking trips, developing new interests. If you have an interest in something, explore it. Or, as I like to say, stay young because of it!



Confronting Your Personal History: Recovering from Severe Emotional Traumas

Each year half of us will experience a major life event A family member may be sick or die, someone may sue you, or you may lose your job. You may have financial worries or be forced to move. Your marriage may fall apart. You may be one of nearly 20 million Americans who has severe clinical depression. Or you may have experienced some trauma in childhood that still affects you (for example, the effect of being a child whose parents become divorced).

I have talked a lot about what you can do to protect yourself during these tough times, strategies for managing stress and emotional hardship. Nevertheless, what if it's just too much? What should you do when it all seems overwhelming? Or if you have a particular problem that is difficult to talk about even with friends and family members? These topics warrant far more in-depth discussion than I can properly provide in this book. However, there are numerous books devoted entirely to each one of these issues, and you should start with those for guidance.

Do not hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist, psychologist, minister, counsellor, or psychiatrist can provide guidance and insight. For years, a stigma was associated with seeking professional help. This attitude hurt everyone. Everyone can benefit from being emotionally healthy, and everyone has life experiences that affect his or her emotional well-being. Thankfully, the past ten to fifteen years have seen a marked shift in the way we view mental health. Seeking professional help has become increasingly accepted.

Mental health is very tricky. Often a person going through a particular crisis denies having a problem. That is why those who live with alcoholics are much more likely to see the problem than the alcoholics themselves. Some mental and emotional states have a biological component as well as a psychological one. For example, the variations of a clinical depression are defined by the chemical changes that occur in hormones in the brain. Medications can help these conditions. So can psychotherapy ('talk therapy'). Often the two work best in combination. Emotional events can trigger a biological reaction, and although a pill can change the biochemistry of the brain, it does little to change the emotional stresses that may have triggered the depression in the first place.


Depression is one of the most prevalent diseases. However, because depression is a disease that can be subtle, it often goes undiagnosed. The causes of. depression can be physiologic and/or psychological. Although we tend to think of depression as a mental and emotional problem, many depressions actually have underlying organic causes. For example, people who are diagnosed with clinical depression frequently have low levels of the hormone serotonin in the brain, indicating a biological origin for what seems to be a psychological condition. Furthermore, there are almost always physiological symptoms, including sluggishness; sleeplessness; loss of appetite; a general sense of helplessness or uselessness; and, at times, suicidal tendencies.

Depression is common in people as they age. More to the point, it is also a disease that can lead to unnecessary ageing. It often affects women in menopause; both men and women who have recently retired; and anyone who has suffered a major ageing event, such as a heart attack or diagnosis of cancer. Sometimes the trigger can be biological, sometimes psychological. But for whatever reason, depression happens.

What is the relationship between depression and ageing? For starters, depression is tied to an increased rate of arterial and cardiovascular ageing. A 1994 study found that women who had depression had lower bone density, presumably from increased levels of the hormone Cortisol, which is found in the blood of depressed people. In addition to causing ageing directly, the symptoms of depression—lethargy, sluggishness, a sense that nothing in the world matters—-lead to behaviors that can accelerate ageing. Depressed people are less likely to exercise, to eat a healthy diet, or to make any effort toward healthy living at all.

Women are more prone to depression than men, although no one knows why. Hypotheses run the gamut. Some researchers believe that women face greater discrimination and often have to juggle more social roles. Others see the disparity as stemming from biological, largely hormonal, differences. About 10 percent of women, suffer from depression during pregnancy, and many have the classic 'postpartum depression' after giving birth. Also women tend to have a higher incidence of hypothyroidism, which is also associated with depression.

Medications can trigger depressions. In addition, depression can be a symptom of other diseases. Individuals who are recovering from heart attacks and strokes are known to be especially prone to depression. Social stresses, such as the death of a loved one or a divorce, can bring on depression, too.

Treatment for depression is highly effective within just a few months of its initiation. Although treatment can prevent accelerated ageing, the biggest problem is that many depressed people are often unable to seek help on their own. If you suspect that someone you care about is depressed, find out more about the condition and see if you can get help for him or her.

Unfortunately, your primary care physician is generally not the best person to detect depression. The symptoms are subtle, and because depression was largely misunderstood until the mid-1980s, many doctors were not trained to recognize the disease. One recent study found that family doctors detected depression in only about 35 percent of the cases. Thus, if you suspect that you or someone you care about might be suffering from depression, seek specialized help. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists are all trained to recognize the symptoms of depression and are able to provide many possible types of treatment.

Other types of emotional distress do not have an organic component at all, but that doesn't mean they aren't true problems. For example, children who experience physical or sexual abuse can suffer the repercussions well into adulthood. And the effects can be psychological and physiologic.

Emotional well-being correlates with physical well-being, which means that if you are emotionally healthy, you stay younger longer. A mental health professional can help you develop strategies for dealing with stress and emotional traumas. Just like a financial planner can help you arrange your finances, a therapist can help you evaluate the situations that cause you stress and develop strategies for avoiding or diffusing them. Sometimes stress can be very subtle and difficult to identify. More and more, we are coming to understand that the health of the mind and the health of the body are interrelated. Do not neglect one for the other. Taking care of yourself—both physically and mentally—-will help keep you young for a long, long time.