If you’re trying to save money, you know that sometimes you have to get a little creative to cut your monthly bills. Limiting your latte habit is one way to tighten your budget, and you might even consider cancelling your current exercise plan.
But according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, you might want to think twice before cutting back on your workouts in an attempt to save some dough. Not exercising could end up costing you a lot of money in the long run.
Researchers analyzed the 2012 results from the annual Medical Expenditure Panel Survey that surveyed 38,974 men and women to see if there was a connection between inactivity and spend on health care. For the purposes of this study, researchers excluded the data from individuals younger than 18 as well as those who were underweight, pregnant, or able to walk up fewer than 10 steps.
They then sorted the data of the remaining 26,239 individuals into two groups: those answered yes to the survey question “do you currently spend half hour or more in moderate to vigorous physical activity, at least five times a week?” and those who answered no.
In this study, moderate and vigorous physical activity were defined as thus: “Moderate physical activity causes only light sweating or a slight or moderate increase in breathing or heart rate and would include activities such as fast walking, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, or heavy cleaning. Vigorous physical activity causes heavy sweating or large increases in breathing or heart rate and would include activities such as running, race walking, lap swimming, aerobic classes, or fast bicycling.”
Individuals were also classified based on their level of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or cardiovascular modifiable risk factor (CRF). Those with three or more CRFs were profiled as “poor” and those with two were profiled “average.” Those with one or no risk factors were profiled as “optimal.”
Even after adjusting for covariates (demographics, insurance type, socioeconomic status, etc.) the researchers found that the largest average difference in how much someone spent each year on health costs was between those who had CVD and nonoptimal physical activity levels and those with optimal CRF and optimal physical activity levels.
Those with CVD and non-optimal physical activity levels spent an adjusted average of $9,419 more every year ($12,659 vs. $3,240). The average adjusted difference in spending between who had CVD and optimal physical activity levels and those who had CVD and nonoptimal physical activity levels was $2,500. (You might have seen that number flying around the interwebs.)
The study also noticed a significant cost savings between individuals who had optimal CRF and optimal levels of physical activity and those who weren’t as physically active. The savings there? $493.
Since this was an associational study, it can’t confirm that regular exercise causes someone to spend less on health care, it only shows that the two are linked. Still, the numbers suggest that adding regular physical activity to your routine should pay off.
For overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends “at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.” For additional health benefits they suggest adding “moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week.”
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