COVID-19 sent ripple effects throughout our entire world in 2020. For many, the impact has been financial. For some, severe anxiety, loneliness, and depression. For others, significant health crisis. And sadly for way too many, the crushing loss of their loved ones.

This virus caught us all off guard. Running out of toiletries or common food items is one thing, but how many of us were caught off guard with unhealthy bodies now trying to stave this destructive virus?

We as Latter-day saints have been taught provident living. Most of us, from our early- to mid-twenties, were taught to save for our future. Many of us have been taught about the amazing effect of compounding interest—for good or for bad. Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, ‘Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He (or she) who understands it, earns it; he (or she) who doesn’t, pays it.’ (1) (italics added)

Have you ever thought about this principle as it relates to your health? 

Years ago, my husband and I were sitting in our financial planner’s office and reviewing our fiscal portfolio, when it dawned on me that I did the same thing for my clients. However, I help them understand the state of their physical “portfolio,” if you will.

I’m a Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Nurse Specialist that worked for years in the crisis management end of healthcare. Repeat “roto-rooter” procedures (such as heart catheters and stents), multiple bypass surgeries, and even heart transplants were the norm. It was fun and exciting to practice in this fast-paced, high-tech specialty in the beginning. But after years of seeing the same patients come back again and again, I knew we were not getting to the root of the problem. In other words, it seemed these patients were still paying very high interest rates for their health, and they just could not get out of physical debt. 

The rules of compounding were at play here too, but not in a good way. Years of poor choices were compounding in a negative way in my patients’ bodies: refined, fatty, sugary foods void of nutrition; long and stress-filled workdays; sedentary lifestyles; sleep deprivation; toxic exposures creating inflammation; and on and on and on. 

Now, as an Integrative Health Coach who specializes in functional medicine, I typically see clients who are in “debt” physically but want help in turning it around. Many are overweight and have the habits and poor choices described above. To make matters worse, they are usually on a few prescription medications that are wreaking havoc with negative side effects. This is not vitality! 

The wise do take the time, year after year, to sit down and carefully analyze their financial portfolios. However, they may never even think to take a serious look at what’s going on with their bodies. They spend years working to create a sum of money for retirement, only to spend their retirement debilitated, tired, out of shape, or battling a life-threatening disease—if they live to their retirement years at all.

A friend recently related a story of one of their colleagues. He is a very successful businessman who had a really fabulous retirement party and was celebrated with honors by his friends and colleagues. Unfortunately for all, he never made it home that night. He suffered a fatal heart attack next to his car after the celebratory dinner. How heartbreaking! Have you heard of similar stories? 

I have learned over the years, both personally and professionally, that these words are oh, so true: “When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot be exerted, wisdom is useless, and reason is powerless.” (Herophilus- an Alexandrian physician and often called the “Father of Anatomy”)

Unfortunately, if you’re like most Americans and many in the Western world, health is absent. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, six in ten American adults have a chronic disease and four in ten have two or more. In fact, if you do a quick online search, you can see that the World Health Organization (WHO) has globalized stats reflecting similar trends.

The economics of these statistics are staggering. A 2007 study states that the economic burden is more than $1.3 trillion dollars annually (in the USA alone) and that number has only increased in the following years. According to the study, most of this cost is from lost productivity, not from the treatment costs of these diseases. And this exorbitant financial burden is from preventable diseases, such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer. These are just some of the many diseases we know can be prevented and sometimes treated using interventions like good nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and high-quality sleep. Now, let’s add the unexpected impact of COVID-19 to these stats –the new cost estimate in the USA is between $30-$546.6 billion dollars! Many patients and families have been left with life-altering bills, in spite of having insurance coverage of $10,000 to $150,000, forcing some to consider selling their homes.

But let’s bring this back to a very personal level. Regardless of what is going on with national politics or economics, you choose every day, day after day, what you will eat and drink, if you will move your body or not, if you abuse substances or not, and if you manage your stress or not.

Our natural instincts and generations of programming make it very easy for us to put off taking care of our bodies. In an evolutionary sense, men have long been conditioned to protect and provide for their tribe. Men’s brains have higher levels of testosterone, which can fuel their levels of competitiveness and protectiveness, and this can lead them to ignore what their body is telling them. Just imagine if our ancestors stopped chasing the proverbial beast that would feed his family when he stubbed his toe while chasing after it. Usually, men will put their physical needs on the back burner until the symptoms are screaming at them. A man has to work deliberately to override his basic human instincts to think about his long-term health.

Women’s brains have higher levels of estrogen than men’s brains, which may help women pay more careful attention to their bodies if they are focused on creating offspring. However, they too will completely shut off the alarms their bodies are sending while they nurture their children. Until the symptoms are screaming at them, they will sacrifice their own health for those around them. Only when we can see that caring for our own health is really helping our families will we take the time to care for our bodies and ourselves. Women often feel guilty for taking the time for exercise or to grab a good meal before they run out the door to meet others’ needs. After all, their time and energy can only go so far, and there are so many needs to be met.  Preventative screening doesn’t even occur on the radar screen. Often, it’s not until a woman sees a friend or relative who is ill and unable to meet the needs of their love ones when the necessity of self-care hits home.

President Russel M. Nelson, our beloved prophet, masterful surgeon and PhD in physiology, has a few things to say about taking care of our bodies. In his April 2019 address in the Priesthood session entitled “We can do better and be better,” Pres. Nelson states that one way we can do better “…is in the way we treat our bodies. I stand in awe of the miracle of the human body. It is a magnificent creation, essential to our gradual ascent toward our ultimate divine potential. We cannot progress without it. In giving us the gift of a body, God has allowed us to take a vital step toward becoming more like Him. Satan understands this. He chafes at the fact that his premortal apostasy permanently disqualifies him from this privilege, leaving him in a constant state of jealousy and resentment. Thus many, if not most, of the temptations he puts in our path cause us to abuse our bodies or the bodies of others. Because Satan is miserable without a body, he wants us to be miserable because of ours.”

This has me pause and ponder how Satan may be trying to rule my spirit, through my daily physical or bodily habits. I realize taking care of yourself could require new habits. However, we can all start by at least taking a trip to the doctor annually to get a physical checkup and lab work. When you schedule time to update your 401K plans or visit with your analyst, how about scheduling a visit to your doctor or other healthcare providers as well? When you review your weekly or monthly budget, perhaps you can also analyze your health parameters (such as your weight, your exercise, or your sleep). As the adage goes, “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  

So, how is your physical portfolio? Does it have the same level of vitality as your fiscal portfolio? What healthy habits do you have, and which are you perhaps lacking? Are you active on a regular basis? Are you eating a balanced diet with more than just easily accessible processed foods? Do you handle stress in healthy ways? Do you get enough sleep most nights? These healthy habits are the compounding interest in your physical portfolio that will help you to avoid health “debt” or “bankruptcy” in the years to come.  Additionally, all of these positive healthy habits will help boost your immune system and protect you from assaults we face in our modern world – COVID included.

Even if you are already in physical debt, or even bankruptcy, there is still hope. There is still help. Yes, it may be a long hard road to turn your health around, but it’s worth it! Get the support you need to find the root cause of your health problems, so that you can make vitality your reality. 

It is fiscally responsible to take care for your physical health. There really is no greater wealth than health!

For another great talk by President Nelson, that may inspire you to care for your body, read or listen to The Magnificence of Man.