If your lifestyle involves at least half an hour of exercise five days a week, a new study predicts that you will be able to save $2,500 annually in medical expenses.
This is a first, given that while previous studies have found that the lack of exercise led to ill-health, this particular study delves in to the actual cost of leading a sedentary lifestyle, which is characterized by a lack of exercise and likely leads to noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease.
According to the senior author of the study, Dr. Khurram Nasir, findings suggest that exercising not only “reduce[s] the risk of contracting disease but also lowers the costs of health related to its cure.”
The study was published by the Journal of American Heart Association on September 7th and features other researchers from universities and hospitals in America, such as Yale, Johns Hopkins, Emory, and Baylor.
To begin with, the researchers first turned to data on what people spend on health care. The annual Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which is conducted by federal agencies, asks a large, representative group of Americans what they have spent on health care in the past year.
The survey includes detailed questions about insurance coverage, prescription costs, doctor visits, hospitalizations, medical devices, other out-of-pocket spending, and reimbursements. It also asks about health, such as any diagnosed illnesses.
A separate part of the survey covers lifestyle issues, such as the person’s income, educational level, and whether he or she smokes as well as physical activity and how often the person engages in moderate or vigorous exercise.
Moderate activities include brisk walking, bicycling gently, or raking leaves. Conversely, vigorous exercise includes running, strenuous cycling, or other activities that significantly increase heart rate and sweating.
To look at costs related to inactivity, researchers focused on expenses among this group related to cardiovascular disease, since its incidence and severity are known to be affected by whether someone exercises.
For instance, in a July study published in the U.K. medical journal Lancet, a sedentary life is likely to lead to such diseases as coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, and even death.
Entitled, “The Economic Burden of Physical Inactivity: A Global Analysis of Major Non-Communicable Diseases,” the study looks at data from 142 nations about time lost from work, insurance claims, healthcare billing, and other costs that the researchers determined were most likely caused by people leading sedentary lives.
The study concluded that inactivity costs the world economy almost $68 billion annually in medical expenses and lost productivity. In the United States alone, the total was almost $28 billion.
Most of the global costs were borne by governments and businesses, the authors write, but almost $10 billion worldwide was paid out of the pockets of individuals. In another study done in 2014 by the World Health Organization and the European Journal of Public Health, it was determined that 47 percent of South Africans live sedentary lives, making it the most affected nation regarding sedentary lifestyles out of all countries in sub-Saharan African.
The study divided its sample of 26,239 men and women into two main groups: those who did or did not meet national exercise guidelines, which recommend that someone work out moderately for 30 minutes five times per week.
It found that if someone had exercised for five days a week, they did save $2,500 in annual medical expenses related to heart disease than someone who did not walk or otherwise move for 30 minutes five times per week.
The researchers arrived at these figures after noting that people with good insurance who did not meet the exercise guidelines paid more annually for their health care than those with skimpier coverage who regularly exercised.
The costs declined for exercisers even if they had been diagnosed with heart disease or had multiple risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and poor cholesterol profiles. If they met the exercise guidelines, they generally spent significantly less on annual health care than someone with heart disease or multiple risk factors who rarely worked out.
It is important to note that this was an associational study that cannot directly prove how exercising causes someone to spend less on health care — only that the two are linked.