How Dwindling Midlife Wealth Can Harm Your Heart

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Middle-aged man with empty wallet
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Stock market plunges like we experienced on Monday are enough to sour any investor’s stomach. But a recent study finds falling wealth can pose an even more serious risk to another organ in the body — your heart.

A relative decline in wealth during midlife boosts the odds of having a cardiac event or being diagnosed with heart disease after age 65, according to the study published in JAMA Cardiology.

By contrast, rising wealth between the ages of 50 and 64 is associated with a reduced cardiovascular risk.

The researchers estimate there is a 1% change in cardiovascular risk for every $100,000 a person gains or loses.

The researchers note that this is not the first evidence linking socioeconomic status with heart health. For example, it is well-established that there is a 10- to 15-year difference in life expectancy when comparing the U.S. population’s richest 1% with the poorest 1%, the researchers say.

However, this study was among the first to examine whether longitudinal changes in wealth are tied to cardiovascular health. After looking at 25 years of data on more than 5,500 adults who did not have cardiovascular disease, the researchers discovered that middle-aged participants who saw their total value of assets — excluding their primary home — rise had lower cardiovascular risk after age 65 compared with others of similar ages.

On the other hand, those who saw their wealth declining later in their careers had a higher cardiovascular risk later in life, resulting in outcomes such as:

  • Acute myocardial infarction
  • Heart failure
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Stroke
  • Cardiac-related death

In a press release, Dr. Andrew Sumarsono, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center who worked on the study, says the study shows that “cardiovascular risk associated with wealth is not permanent and can be influenced.”

Sumarsono also notes that catastrophic losses in wealth can occur at any time, often from situations beyond our control. In addition, not all racial and socioeconomic groups have the same opportunities to accrue wealth, he notes. He concludes:

“Policies that build resilience against large wealth losses and that address these opportunity gaps should be prioritized and may be considered a public health measure to improve overall health while also potentially narrowing racial, socioeconomic, and cardiovascular health disparities.”

How to protect your wealth

If you are in the middle of life and are starting to worry about how your finances will look down the road, it’s time to take action. You might start by enrolling in Money Talks News’ retirement course The Only Retirement Guide You'll Ever Need.

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