Retirement Savers & Healthy Living Enthusiasts: Are They One and the Same?

July 14, 2014

Is the person that exercises regularly, works to keep their eating habits in check, and pays attention to their overall physical health the same person who diligently plans for retirement, ensuring that today’s contributions will meet tomorrow’s financial goals?

According to a new study “Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Retirement Planning Predicts Employee Health Improvements” by professors at Missouri’s Washington University, they are one and the same.

The study was conducted by giving participants in various states health screenings (some who contribute to a 401(k) and some who don’t). The participants were then told the results of their health screening – 97% of which had an abnormal blood test and 25% of which had at least one “severely abnormal finding.” They were given the appropriate information about the health risks they were facing, the behaviors that were exacerbating the issues, and the ones that could improve them.

After following the participants for two years (and taking several different factors into account), the professors discovered that those who had already been diligent with their 401(k) contributions were the same ones who had taken the health warnings and changed their habits as a result.

The conclusion?

“Our analysis suggests that the same underlying psychological factors that are linked to retirement planning also predict health-improvement behaviors.”

Internal vs. External Locus of Control

While the study may not have explored this topic directly, after reading through the findings, I immediately began thinking about the concept of internal locus of control vs. external locus of control.

If this isn’t a concept you’re aware of, here it is in layman’s terms:

Those with an internal locus of control believe that they are more in control of what happens to them than any outside event or circumstance. They are more likely to brainstorm solutions with the belief that they can make something better than label themselves as the “victim” and wait for something externally to change.

Those with an external locus of control are essentially the opposite. They believe that life happens to them and their current situation or circumstance can easily make them feel helpless. If positive things do happen, they often credit “luck” or “chance.”

Where’s the Connection?

It has been my experience that the more you operate using the internal locus of control, the more likely you are to make proactive choices to improve your long-term physical and financial health. You are more likely to believe that any small choices or changes you make today can actually impact your future in a big way, so you actively choose delayed gratification – with food and exercise as well as saving and spending.

According to the study:

“The research findings show that insufficient retirement funds and chronic health problems are at least partially driven by time discounting, a common cognitive bias that leads us to prefer smaller immediate rewards over larger future rewards.”

My belief that I am in charge of what my financial picture looks like 20, 30, 40 years from now is what pushes me to up my contributions when I get a raise, or sometimes beforehand. It also pushes me to continue my practice of running, even when I start to believe that skipping those 30 minutes a day couldn’t possibly have that much of an impact.

If I thought that either way I was destined to be financially destitute or in bad health, I can promise you that I wouldn’t bother. I’d much rather gorge myself on pasta and buy new clothes every week – that sounds considerably more enjoyable.

Your Two Cents

So what do you think about this study and its’ findings? Do you think it’s too far-reaching? Or do you think there is a real correlation?

Let’s start the conversation. Leave a comment below.