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Is your credit score making you sick?

Everyone from credit card issuers and mortgage and car loan lenders view your credit score as a sign of your financial health. And the math isn’t complicated. The higher those three little digits soar, the healthier your finances are thought to be.

Having healthy finances (a.k.a. a high credit score) is widely regarded as a sign that you make sound financial decisions to avoid racking up a mountain of debt, spending more than your budget allows or electing to spend money earmarked for rent or other bills on impulse purchases.

And a new study from Duke University says a high credit score could be an indicator of your physical health, too.

Credit Score = Heart Health?

A team of researchers studied the physical and mental health of more than 1,000 residents of New Zealand from birth to their 38th birthday. Throughout the years of close monitoring, the researchers tracked participants’ blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and smoking habits. Using the data from the cardiovascular assessments, they determined everyone’s heart age.

And what the researchers found surprised them.

Even though all the study participants were age 38, the age of their hearts ranged between 22 and 85. Those with the youngest hearts also had the highest credit scores.

That doesn’t mean people who are good at managing their money make better health decisions, but perhaps that is more likely. If you don’t care for and nurture your finances by regularly checking your credit report, paying attention to credit balances to avoid using more than 30 percent of all available credit, paying bills on time and other actions, you probably don’t pay attention to your own physical well-being either.

Other Relations

chartThe study also identified three other factors that form the relationship between credit score and health: a person’s educational attainment, cognitive ability, and self-control.

“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.

Then there’s the emotional and physical toll financial stress can take.

When you’re stuck in a cycle of worrying about making ends meet, all that stress can actually make you sick, according to numerous studies. It can also distract you and lead to forgetting to schedule routine physicals or regular prescriptions to regulate blood pressure, diabetes or asthma. Financial stress may also mean you can’t afford the co-pay for these health needs.

Worrying about money can also leave you unable to sleep at night. And sleep deprivation or disruption has also been linked to poor health in numerous studies.

Health Habits Formed Young

Our financial and physical health habits are formed at an early age, according to the research. The study says roughly 20 percent of the factors that tie credit scores and heart health is accounted for by the attitudes, behaviors and competencies displayed before age 10.

“We’re showing that these things take root early in life,” post-doctoral researcher Salomon Israel of Duke University said in the release.

“The thing that’s so compelling about credit scores is that they’re both predictive and retrospective,” added Avshalom Caspi, also a professor at Duke and one of the study’s authors. “They offer a window on the future, but also a window on the past.”

Improve Your Health And Your Credit

The researchers, like physicians, note a poor credit score (much like an old heart) can be altered. However, improving your financial—or physical—health is rarely accomplished overnight.

In the case of your heart, you may have to begin an exercise routine, change your diet and/or take daily medicine to regulate blood pressure. Of course, it’s important to lower stress levels, says Steven Masley, M.D., nutritionist, American Heart Association Fellow and author of “30-Day Heart Tune-Up.”

“Every day you have to make good food and exercise choices and work to manage stress,” says Dr. Masley.

And that same diligence is needed to improve your financial health, too.

Habits like reviewing your credit report annually for errors, setting and regularly reviewing budgets, balances and interest rates, and not being tempted to open high interest store credit cards at the check-out to afford an impulse purchase can help improve your financial health and credit score.