News & Resources

Want to Save Money? Exercise!

July 26, 2021

Experts from Newcastle University in the UK recently asked the question: Do people who exercise spend less on health care?

To find out, they looked at the records of half a million people in the U.S., spanning the years 1996 to the present. The subjects reported their current activity level, as well as how active they had been in the past.

The research team, headed by health economist Diarmuid Coughlin, divided the study subjects into four main categories, depending on how their level of activity had changed over the years:

  • 5% had been active all their lives.
  • 36% had become active beginning in early adulthood.
  • 5% were active in early adulthood but slowed down with age.
  • 4% were inactive earlier but started working out more as they grew older.

The researchers then compared the subjects’ Medicare claims with their reported exercise level. They found that people who had maintained or increased their level of activity had up to 22% lower annual health care costs than those who had become less active over the years.

In fact, people who were inactive in their later years had higher costs even if they were formerly quite active. The lesson: It’s never too late to be more active—and always too soon to stop!

Of note, the effect was seen across people of every ethnic group, economic level, and marital status. Even smokers who were active had lower costs than couch potato smokers.

Coughlin stresses that this is an important lesson for our health care system: Money spent by government and private entities to encourage fitness can actually save money. Fortunately, some insurance companies and Medicare plans are starting to pick up on this, offering coverage for certain exercise activities. Previous studies by groups such as the American Heart Association, Baptist Health South Florida, and the University of Queensland in Australia have confirmed the benefits.

And what about individuals? If we balk now at paying for a gym membership, physical therapy, or getting an exercise plan from our doctor, we’ll likely have to spend more later. If we hesitate to get hip surgery or a knee replacement when our doctor recommends it, the amount we don’t spend as a co-pay will likely show up on medical bills in another way as health problems slow us down.

Because after all, while saving money is an important goal, preserving our health is even more important. Exercise lowers our risk of so many health problems—heart disease, obesity, hypertension, cancer, arthritis, even Alzheimer’s disease. It lowers depression, too.

Talk to your health care provider about an exercise program that is right for you. For older adults, that usually includes:

  • Aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing—anything that makes the heart pump faster and makes us breathe a little harder.
  • Muscle-strengthening exercises, such as lifting weights, using resistance bands, using special gym equipment, or activities that make you lift your own body weight, such as toe stands.
  • Flexibility exercises, such as stretches or yoga, improve range of motion and freedom of movement.
  • Balance exercises, such as tai chi, improve our sense of position and reduce the risk of falls.

Ridgeview Transitional Rehabilitation’s interdisciplinary team helps guests achieve their highest level of function, working with them to create an appropriate activity plan as they recover from an injury, surgery or illness.