Your credit score is widely regarded as the primary indicator of your financial health by illustrating years’ worth of your financial decisions. The higher those three little digits soar, the healthier your finances are believed to be. Creditors associate a high score with someone who is good at managing their money by paying bills on time and not getting into debt. And those healthy financial habits are attractive to potential lenders like banks (for mortgages and car loans) or credit card issuers.
So it’s no surprise that if your credit score starts to slide downhill, your financial health is likely to follow suit. And the quality of any loan offers that happen to come your way (assuming you receive any new offers of credit depending on how far your score slips) may be sub-par because creditors assume you don’t pay your bills on time or have racked up a mountain of debt.
But a new study from Duke University says a person’s credit score may also be an indicator of physical health, too. The researchers looked at the physical and mental health of more than 1,000 New Zealanders who were monitored continuously from birth to age 38. After the years of close monitoring, everyone in the study had a cardiovascular risk exam that looked at blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and smoking habits. These numbers were crunched into a heart age. And despite everyone being 38 years old, heart ages of study participants ranged between 22 and 85. Those with higher credit scores had younger heart ages.
The premise behind this theory is not being able to manage your money worsens your credit score, but also is a sign that you’re probably not taking care of your health, either. Not the inability to make sound financial decisions that make you physically sick.
Instead, all that worrying about money can distract you or stress you out to the point of getting sick. So, if you’re experiencing a serious cash crunch, you may not remember to adhere to your doctor’s treatment plan and taking daily meds to maintain your blood pressure or may be up all night tossing and turning, which is a risk factor for a host of health maladies including being overweight.
Other factors that tie credit score and health together into a neat little package include a person’s educational attainment, cognitive ability, and self-control — three things the researchers say tell a lot about whether you’re likely to max out credit cards or come up short on rent because you had to have that new purse.
“What it comes down to is that people who don’t take care of their money don’t take care of their health,” said Terrie Moffitt, a professor of neuroscience at Duke University and author of a new study on the subject, in a press release. She said this study confirms what the insurance and financial industries may already understand.
And it seems we develop habits and tendencies that impact health and money at a young age. The study says roughly 20 percent of the connection between credit scores and heart health is accounted for by the attitudes, behaviors and competencies displayed younger than age 10.
“We’re showing that these things take root early in life,” said post-doctoral researcher Salomon Israel of Duke University in the release.
“The thing that’s so compelling about credit scores is that they’re both predictive and retrospective,” said co-author Avshalom Caspi, also a professor at Duke. “They offer a window on the future, but also a window on the past.”
Safeguarding your health
Unlike high blood pressure or cholesterol, there’s no magic pill to take to cure ill finances. That typically takes months of budgeting and attention to due dates and credit card balances. So the stress of not being able to make ends meet won’t vanish overnight.
But that doesn’t mean you have to let it compound any credit-related predisposition for poor health, or that you have to be stuck holding the bag for pricey visits to the doctor because a low credit score made you sick. Make sure to discuss any increase in stress (whether the result of finances or other issues) with your doctor to learn about management techniques. That can help maintain a healthy blood pressure as well as open the door to solutions to catch a full 40 winks of sleeps every night.
And try to trim years off your heart’s age, too. That’s often done with the help of fiber, says Steven Masley, M.D., nutritionist, American Heart Association Fellow and author “30-Day Heart Tune-Up.” Eating 30 grams of fiber a day, can help reduece the amount of plaque in your heart. That can trim up to 10 years off your heart’s age while you’re working on improving your financial health.
Good sources of soluble fiber are oats, bran, nuts, beans, apples and citrus fruits. You can also shave years off your heart’s age by:
• Quitting (or don’t start) smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke
• Getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise two to three times a week
• Maintaining a healthy body weight
• Knowing your numbers. If you don’t know your cholesterol (or blood pressure) you don’t know how effective your current diet and exercise habits are. Talk to your doctor about heart numbers to take control of your heart health.
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