Clients will have a better chance of living longer if advisors help them address financial stress, which is linked to heart disease, said at a panel at the Financial Planning Association’s annual conference.

“You can help clients to manage stress to help them lead a longer life,” said Carol Craigie, CFP, founder of Fiscal Fitness Clubs. She and Catalina Franco-Cicero, CFP, of Tobias Financial Advisors in Plantation, Fla.; and Carl A. Wayne, a lawyer with the American Heart Association, said Thursday that research shows the correlation between heart health and financial stress.

The No. 1 cause of death in the United States is heart disease, they said, and the risk of getting it increases by semi-controllable factors including high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, excessive use of alcohol or caffeine, drug abuse, stress, depression, obesity and poor nutrition. The No. 1 cause of stress is finances, and people often deal with that stress by caffeine overconsumption, compulsive spending, drinking excessively, overeating and drug use. One can see that many of the unhealthy behaviors people turn to in dealing with stress are risk factors for heart disease, Craigie said.

She added 70% of people say they can’t afford an unexpected $500 car repair bill. “Happiness goes down in direct correlation with the size of debt,” Craigie said.

Advisors have the ability to impact the heart health of their clients by helping them deal with their money issues, Craigie said. It creates more stress for clients when advisors tell them things like, “You will run out of money by the time you are 90,” or “You don’t have enough money for me to work with you.”

Instead, advisors can help clients become more aware of financial stress and discuss how they might reduce it, she said. Advisors can point clients to articles and ask them to fill out questionnaires on financial stress. She added her firm surveys clients about their attitudes on six categories related to money, spending and debt. If needed, advisors can also refer clients to psychologists or financial coaches.

Franco-Cicero says an advisor doesn’t need to act as a therapist, but just talking about financial stress with clients and guiding them on how to relieve it can help them feel better. “And even if we don’t have a solution at that very moment, because there are things we have to look at to get to the ultimate solution, it’s nice that they have an open space where they don’t feel judged, where they can just talk about these things,” she said.

Even people who are financially secure may feel stress from money issues, noted Franco-Cicero. A lot of well-off people worry about running out of money. She gave an example of clients of hers who have combined pensions of $190,000 annually and $4 million saved. “They don’t want to touch the savings. They just want to live on their pensions. So that doesn’t mean they aren’t worried because they are financially secure.”

Another client with millions saved was afraid to spend $50,000 on a kitchen remodel, she said. Franco-Cicero used financial planning software to show the 70-year-old woman that even if she doubled the amount of the remodel and her life expectancy was 120 years old, she wouldn’t run out of money. The client laughed when she finally accepted she didn’t have to worry. “Still, these fears are real, whether we think they are real or not,” Franco-Cicero said. “How do we illustrate that for them to bring them peace around that?”

Charitable giving conversations are also important to have with financially secure clients, who often want to leave a legacy and appreciate conversations about their values and passions, the panelists said.