If reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s isn’t enough to motivate you to exercise, then perhaps this will: If you don’t work out regularly, you could be blowing $500 a year.
To assess how exercise habits impact individuals’ annual health care costs, researchers from Johns Hopkins, Yale, and other top institutions analyzed data from more than 26,000 adults. Among those who did not have heart disease, almost half got at least 75 minutes of vigorous or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Of those who already had heart disease, one-third met the recommended weekly guidelines for physical activity.
Not surprisingly, health care costs, including doctors’ appointments, urgent care visits, prescription drugs, and medical devices, were much higher for the people with cardiovascular troubles than for those without. However, within the core of the disease group, the ones who exercised spent $2,500 less per year on health care than the non-exercisers — proving the huge impact that exercise alone can have on well-being.
Staying active also made a startling difference in how much those without heart disease spent on health care. The researchers broke the subjects out by the number of cardiovascular risk factors they had (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, age, even income), and among the overall healthiest, folks who didn’t work out sunk an additional $500 into health care.
“This study gives us even more solid evidence that physical activity has a significant effect on health,” says Dr. Jorge Plutzky, MD, director of preventive cardiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an American Heart Association spokesperson. “Exercise brings many different forces into play that can benefit you, such as weight loss — and it’s amazing what can happen when you lose even just a little weight. Blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation all go down. You just can’t put all those benefits into a pill.” Exercise also reduces stress, Plutzky adds, which further protects the heart.
Still, because the risks of heart disease, cancer, and other maladies seem nebulous and not like an immediate threat, many people, especially younger adults, don’t prioritize exercise. This is dangerous, Plutzky insists, because atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries that progresses into heart attacks and strokes — often develops in early adulthood.
“People often think, ‘Hey, I’m 25 and thin, so heart risks don’t really pertain to me,” he says. “Well, when you’re 65 and have a stroke ‘out of nowhere,’ it’s actually the culmination of a process that began in your twenties.”
Perhaps attaching a tangible price tag to the perks of working out will make it all hit home.
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