In a perfect world, we'd all sprint to retirement. After all, what better end to a long race than winning the right to spend your leisure years finally learning how to build miniature ships in bottles or earning a karate black belt?

But in reality, some of us are limping along -- literally.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute, in their annual survey of people's attitudes about health care, found that increasing health costs are taking a toll on many people's retirement contributions and other savings goals.

The survey found that about 60 percent of people were responsible for paying more of the health-care costs under their plan in the past year. Among those people, health care costs were causing some financial hardships.

Because of a bigger health-care burden:

  • More than one-third of people decreased their contributions to retirement plans;
  • More than half decreased their contributions to other savings;
  • About 28% said they had difficulty paying for basic necessities, like food, heat, and housing;
  • About 37% reported difficulty paying other bills; and
  • 22 percent increased their credit card debt.

That's bad news, especially since the survey showed that all those numbers have increased since last year. It looks like more of us feel forced to choose between good health now and a more comfortable retirement later, or have to consider putting off some other financial goal.

Most employees don't have a lot of control over their health-care plans and their required contributions, but you can do a few things to get a handle on health-care costs.

Some employers offer a range of plans at different costs. You might consider switching to a less expensive plan if you're confident you will get the health coverage that's right for your needs. This is the time of year when many companies let workers review their benefits and make changes.

If your company offers one, a health-care flexible spending account can help you cut costs. It eliminates taxes on money that you spend on health care. It's great for covering health expenses that you expect, but not necessarily for surprises.

If you know that a health problem could throw a major curve ball at the family finances, start building an emergency fund. Head over to the savings center to learn more about strategies for how much to save and where to put the money.

If health-care costs have already lead you to debt, check out the credit center for some help turning the red ink back to black.

If you're just feeling the pressure of higher health-care costs, try to protect your retirement nest egg at all costs. Won't you be happier giving up the cable subscription or a few restaurant meals now, instead of having to work a year or two longer? Reducing your contribution to a retirement savings account may feel like it's easing the pressure, but it won't get you to a comfortable retirement any faster.

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Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback. The Fool's disclosure policy will never retire.