NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Did you know that contributing more cash to your 401(k) plan could lead to better physical health outcomes?
Conversely, not contributing to your retirement could be a harbinger of depressed health, says one academic study.
The data come from a study called Healthy, Wealthy and Wise: Retirement Planning Predicts Employee Health Improvements from the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.
Lead researcher Lamar Pierce, a business professor at the university, found that "poor physical health and financial health are driven by the same underlying psychological factors." That suggests the better the financial decisions you make, the healthier you'll become.
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Pierce and his team tracked employee decisions to contribute to a 401(k) plan and matched those contributions levels to employer-sponsored health exams for employees. First, study participants were given a full health exam, then were provided thorough information on risky heath habits. Researchers tracked the employees for two years, focusing on key financial decisions such as 401(k) contributions and how those decisions affected their personal health.
What the researchers discovered should be posted in the break rooms and cafeterias in workplaces across the U.S.
"We found that existing retirement contribution patterns and future health improvements are highly correlated," Pierce says. "Those who save for the future by contributing to a 401(k) improved abnormal health test results and poor health behaviors approximately 27% more than non-contributors."
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The Washington University team also found that having "insufficient retirement funds" was a solid indicator of relatively poor personal health, and that any decision by an individual employee to pass up a chance to contribute to a 401(k) plan was a predictor of poor health habits.
The study results reveal a clear pattern of strong health related to those 401(k) contributions, and poor health after not contributing to a 401(k) -- even if both employees had similar health testing results before making their financial decisions.
"After controlling for differences in initial health, demographics and job type, the researchers found that retirement savings and health improvement behaviors are highly correlated," the study noted. "Those who had previously chosen to save for the future through 401(k) contributions improved their health significantly more than non-contributors, despite having few health differences prior to program implementation."