Regular exercise is without a doubt one of the best things you can do for your overall health. It reduces or prevents just about every mental and physical ailment, helps maintain bodily function into old age, and adds an estimated six years of life.
But what does physical activity do for your financial health? Do hours spent exercising boost your bottomline while shrinking your waistline? An analysis conducted by scientists at the CDC and the National Cancer Institute recently published to the journal BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine sheds some light on the subject.
The researchers pored through data from the NIH-Formerly AARP Diet and Health Study to examine “how leisure-time physical activity participation from adolescence (15–18 years) into early (19–29 years), middle (35–39 years) and later adulthood (43–64 years) is associated with subsequent Medicare costs.” They ultimately tracked the healthcare costs of 21,750 people who responded to in-depth questionnaires about their physical activity.
As expected, cost-savings were significant. Adults who maintained moderate or high physical activity throughout life saved around $1,300 per year in Medicare costs after age 65. Adults who were most active in early adulthood saved $1,874 dollars in yearly Medicare costs.
Higher physical activity in middle age was particularly effective at lowering average annualized total healthcare costs after age 65. People who exercised between one and three hours per week during this time saved $1,365 compared to people reporting less than one hour of activity. People who exercised 7+ hours saved $2,079.
A prior study published in 2016 to the Journal of the American Heart Assocation found that individuals at low-risk for cardiovascular disease trimmed $500 off their yearly healthcare costs by exercising regularly, while those with a history of heart disease saved $2,500.
Exercise requires up-front investment, of course, in time and often money. Hours spent working out each week could be used for other, more enjoyable activities, while gym memberships and exercise equipment can easily top $1,000 per year. It does seem, however, that when actual monetary savings are tabulated, along with a lengthened lifespan and time spent living free of pain and disability, habitual physical activity more than pays for itself.
Source: Coughlan D, Saint-Maurice PF, Carlson SA, et al Leisure time physical activity throughout adulthood is associated with lower medicare costs: evidence from the linked NIH-AARP diet and health study cohort BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2021;7:e001038. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2021-001038