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Your Health is Your Wealth | Letters to My Sons

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In this letter to my sons, I try to teach them the important lesson that “your health is your wealth,” and that it’s not all about money.

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“Letters to my sons” is a series of posts where I write to my two young sons, with the hopes that they’ll be reading these letters in about a decade.

This letter tells my boys about the important of good health in addition to good financial practices.


Dear sons,

I want to impart an important message today: Your health is your wealth.

I intend for you to read these letters when you’re in high school, so I’m sure you’ve heard this saying by now. And though you may feel like you’re invincible, I can guarantee that you won’t feel like that forever. The older you get, the more you’ll have to commit to maintaining your health to avoid the inexorable decline that happens to so many Americans in their 30s and 40s.

As I write this, it’s 2023 and we’re still reeling from the aftereffects of the Covid pandemic, which is still ongoing to a large extent. Inflation is high, globalization is fracturing, and we’re flirting with a recession. We recently moved from Los Angeles to Memphis for your mom’s career, and I’m enjoying the last couple weeks of my sabbatical before I resume practicing urology in addition to real estate investing.

Read more: Anno Darwinii Archives

You won’t remember this, but a nasty cold virus just worked its way through our family. You boys had it first, then I got it, and then your mom fell ill. Aside from when I got Covid this past summer, it’s probably the sickest I’ve been in years. As I lay in bed chugging DayQuil, I decided to write this letter to drive home the fact that your health is your wealth.

Your health is your wealth

By now, you’re probably tired of my advice about investing. You’re privileged to have a financially secure future. You’ve already got index funds in a brokerage account, happily compounding away in the market. You’ve already been exposed to the wonders of real estate investing, and I bet by now I’ve put you to work in some capacity to support that business.

Read more: Compound Interest: the Key to Building Wealth

But it’s time you understand that all of that money is meaningless without good health.

Take any wealthy business mogul, lying in a hospital bed with an incurable illness. They’d trade any amount of money just to be rid of their health problems.

In my career as a urologic surgeon, the typical patient I see is a 70 year old male. It’s amazing to see the variety of health my patients have at that age. Some of them have realized the importance of health and have taken action to invest in their physical wellbeing. These are the 70 year olds that are spry and limber, both in body and mind. They walk with a sure step and speak glowingly of the regular exercise that is a part of their weekly routine.

I also see the other half. These are the 70 year olds who are obese or frail, with a recent history of heart attack, already on two blood thinners. Their lives have had more than their fair share of unhealthy food and inactivity. Their near future probably has that too-common combination of heart disease, high blood pressure, and likely premature death.

Don’t judge the unhealthy

I’ve come to realize that most people innately know that your health is your wealth. Even if someone is unhealthy as a result of poor choices in diet and exercise, they know this truth. They know that working on your body and mind is the best investment you can make, but they just don’t have the capacity to invest.

It’s difficult to work out at the gym when you’re already at work for 12 hours a day. Medical residents know this scenario very well, as do a lot of people working two jobs just to make ends meet.

And if you’re like most people who have ample bills and no emergency fund, it can be hard to justify the extra money for the gym or healthy food.

But if you have the blessing of good financial planning and control overy your busy schedule, it’s time to start taking care of your body.

I’m at a health crossroads

I turned 41 years old just a few months ago, so I’m right around the age when things start to break down. But unlike a car, where you can just switch out parts as they corrode and fail, your physical health isn’t so simple. Good health in modern society requires both a general commitment to healthy living, as well as specific preventative measures to prevent inexorable health decline.

Today, there’s just too much calorie laden food that is readily available through the drive-thru or Uber Eats. (In case Uber Eats isn’t around anymore, it’s essentially a meal delivery service that grew out of a ride hailing company. They’re not really a profitable company at the moment, so who knows how much longer they’ll survive.)

But make no mistake, your 30s and 40s are a crossroads, with a healthy lifestyle on one side and poor health on the other side. Although you might effortlessly stay healthy right now with the blessed metabolism of youth, it doesn’t stay that way. I noticed things slowing down in my mid twenties, with a noticeable difference in my 30s. (Note: There’s some evidence that weight gain is not really due to metabolism changes at all, but more due to decreased physical activity and increased caloric intake.)

To be honest, by the end of my 6 years of urologic surgery employment in SoCal, my own health seemed defined by late night binges at McDonald’s while on call and too many hours typing into the EMR or sitting in traffic on my commute. I had poor physical fitness and hated it. As a physician, I knew the small steps required to get on the right track, but I had a hard time implementing these changes.

Sometimes your wealth is your health

It doesn’t take financial well-being to be healthy, but it’s certainly much easier to invest in your health if you’ve had financial success. I wrote an article a while ago about the benefits of organic food, which includes a 25% lower risk of cancer. I also noted in that article that organic food can be 2-3 times as expensive as the regular stuff.

Read more: Organic food and cancer risk

In my new commitment to a healthier lifestyle, I’m trying to stick to an exercise plan and eat more protein. It’s just difficult for me to control my weight when most of my calories are coming from carbohydrates. But protein is expensive!

Studies support this and have found that pound for pound, sugar and fat are cheaper in our modern society than protein, fiber, and vitamins.

Your average American will struggle with their financial health in their lifetime and may never have the financial security needed to buy organic organic food or try out a high protein diet. Heck, 50% of Americans have $500 or less in their emergency funds!

Without financial security, it’s difficult to worry about things like a healthy diet, exercise, or a personal trainer.

So while wealth isn’t a necessity to have a healthy and active lifestyle, it certainly makes it a lot easier. So take care of your financial goals at the same time as your health goals. They’re tied together at the hip.

Read more: How to Save, Invest, and Become Rich

Everyone’s health is different

Your mother’s approach to health includes an interesting mix of intermittent fasting, coffee, peanut butter, and yoga. Honestly it’s not for me. I’m still figuring out the best holistic approach to my own health, but I’m zeroing in on some mix of kettlebells and high protein.

I think in some ideal future, everyone will have a health app that gives personalized diet and exercise recommendations based on our unique genetic code. I think artificial intelligence will probably help us get to this future.

But if we’re not there yet by the time you read this letter, just know that everyone is different. Don’t get frustrated if the exercise program that works for your best friend doesn’t work for you. In my opinion, it’s more important to have a general dedication to health and a willingness to use trial and error to find the best options for your life.

Personalized medicine

In the 2020s, we’re struggling as a society with the growing medical evidence that different people are predisposed to everything from cancer to heart disease or diabetes. There’s concern over how to translate this information to appropriate public health policies that avoid discrimination and bias. There’s also strong evidence that there are social determinants of health, like access to education, healthcare, and safe neighborhoods. I’m not naive enough to think that we’ll have solved for all these issues by the time you read this letter, but I hope we’ll have made some progress towards a new age of personalized medicine.

Conclusion

If I’ve done my job right, you’ll be blessed in your financial lives. You’ll both start out your careers with the confidence that only those with familial insurance can have. Hopefully you’ll understand the intrinsic value of investing for the long term, building businesses, and using the federal tax system for your mutual benefit.

But I hope now you also will start to realize that your health is your wealth. It doesn’t matter if you have millions in the bank without the physical fitness to enjoy the fruits of your labor. So please make healthy choices in your life. Exercise on a regular basis. Reduce your stress levels. Get enough sleep. Take care of your mental health. And take care of others too, because having strong social networks is incredibly important to both your financial life and your general well-being.

I’m trying to do all of this right now, and I hope I will succeed. If I haven’t by the time you read these letters, please give me a stern talking to.

Love,

Your Dad


What health messages do you want to impart to your kids? Let me know in the comments below, and subscribe for more!

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9 comments

Jen February 24, 2023 - 3:44 am

About 10 years ago my husband and I started having veggie omelets for breakfast and salad with grilled chicken for lunch almost every day. We work out 3-5 days/week but I also have an insatiable sweet tooth (that I love indulging on a daily basis). I hope that our girls (ages 11 and 8) see that it’s hard to mess up when you have a healthy breakfast and lunch everyday.

Reply
Shahzad February 24, 2023 - 4:51 am

Thank you for sharing this heartfelt letter to your sons about the importance of good health. Your words resonate with me as a reader and serve as a reminder to prioritize our well-being. Wishing you and your family all the best in your new home and career endeavors.

Reply
ashraful tahura April 3, 2023 - 11:26 am

i hope that your story has provided me with valuable insights and inspiration to prioritize your health and wellbeing. Thank you for your valuable content.

Reply
John Gatesby July 17, 2023 - 5:30 am

Your personal experiences as a urologic surgeon add weight to your message, driving home the impact of health choices on one’s overall quality of life. Your advice to take care of both financial and health goals is a valuable lesson for all. Your commitment to a healthier lifestyle, despite the challenges, is inspiring.

Reply
Daily Life Space September 5, 2023 - 3:15 am

You are right” Your health is your wealth”. Thank you for sharing this insightful post!

Reply
anderson November 29, 2023 - 11:48 pm

Your Health is Your Wealth | Letters to My Sons” – A poignant reminder that true wealth lies in good health. The title alone speaks volumes about the importance of prioritizing well-being in life’s journey. Looking forward to gaining insights from the heartfelt ‘Letters to My Sons.

Reply
The Darwinian Doctor November 30, 2023 - 3:37 pm

Thanks a lot!

Reply
Hridoy January 20, 2024 - 3:08 pm

Such a heartfelt and wise letter! Your emphasis on the invaluable connection between health and wealth is a powerful message. Your personal experiences and commitment to a healthier lifestyle make this advice even more genuine and impactful. Your sons are fortunate to have such a caring and insightful dad!

Reply
The Darwinian Doctor January 21, 2024 - 8:42 am

Thanks so much! Now I just have to live the message and hit the gym!

Reply

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Dr. Daniel Shin

Dr. Daniel Shin

I’m Dr. Daniel Shin, a surgeon, investor, and educator on a mission to fast-track your financial freedom. From a $300,000 debt to a diverse investment portfolio, I’m now just years away from financial independence. Ready to join me on this journey? Let’s go!

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