Regular Exercise Saves $2,500/Yr for People with Heart Disease; That’s Real Money for Most of Us.

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Getting recommended levels of exercise weekly may help keep down annual medical costs both for people with and without cardiovascular disease, according to new research in Journal of the American Heart Association. Patients with heart disease who did moderate to vigorous physical activity for 30 minutes at least five times a week saved an average of more than $2,500 (about 2222 euros) in annual healthcare costs, the study found.

#Exercise for 30 min, 5X a week, saved $2,500 in healthcare costs for those with #heartdisease Click To Tweet

And according to Medical Express, even workout zealots without heart disease may experience lower costs, according to the study. Although it’s well known that regular moderate exercise reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, and chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. According to Khurram Nasir, MD, MPH, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Healthcare Advancement & Outcomes and the High Risk Cardiovascular Disease Clinic at Baptist Health South Florida in Coral Gables:

“Our findings also emphasize the favorable impact on how much you pay for healthcare,” said Dr. Nasir, “The financial benefits with regular exercise were notable across the entire spectrum of risk including those with and without known cardiovascular disease.”

For cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week, or a combination of the two.

The new study examined data from a 2012 national survey sample of more than 26,000 Americans age 18 or older, excluding people who were underweight, pregnant, or unable to walk up to 10 steps. Nearly half the participants who did not have cardiovascular disease, and almost one-third who did, reported meeting exercise guidelines for weekly moderate-to-vigorous activity.

People in the study who already had cardiovascular disease–specifically coronary artery disease, stroke, heart attack, arrhythmias or peripheral artery disease–had higher healthcare costs. But those patients who regularly exercised at recommended levels chalked up average healthcare costs more than $2,500 lower than those who didn’t meet exercise guidelines.

Even though getting 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week is associated with fewer complications and deaths from heart disease, roughly two-thirds of heart disease patients still fail to get this much physical activity, Nasir and colleagues note, according to Reuters.

Among the people without heart disease, 49% reported getting at least the minimum recommended amount of exercise each week, compared with just 32% of those with cardiovascular disease. People in the study with cardiovascular disease–including coronary artery disease, stroke, heart attack, irregular heartbeats or peripheral artery disease–had higher healthcare costs.

But the subset of heart-cardiovascular disease patients who regularly exercised had average healthcare costs more than $2,500 lower than those who didn’t meet exercise guidelines. This is probably due to averted hospitalizations and emergency department visits, which can be quite costly, Nasir said.

Participants were also grouped according to their number of cardiovascular risk factors–high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and obesity. Among the healthiest participants, with no heart disease and not more than one cardiovascular risk factor, those that exercised regularly had yearly medical costs averaging about $500 lower (about 444 euros) than those who didn’t exercise.

The research suggests that if just 20% of patients with cardiovascular disease who are not getting enough physical activity would meet exercise goals, it might save up to $6 billion (about 5.3 billion euros) a year in healthcare costs, Nasir said.

In connection with this JAMA study, The New York Times referenced an eye-popping study published in July in The Lancet which looked at data from 142 nations about time lost from work, insurance claims, health care billing, and other costs that the researchers determined were most likely caused by people being sedentary and now suffering from heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer or colon cancer. Each of these conditions is believed to be much more common among people who do not exercise.

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 the JAMA study, overall, the data strongly suggest that:

“Being physically active is good for your wallet,” according to Dr. Nasir.

He also made the important point that this study focused only on expenses related to cardiovascular disease and that the actual annual cost savings from being physically active could be substantially higher than $2,500.

Steve’s Take: I was drawn to the American Heart Association study’s $2,500 annual savings–the actual number–for heart disease patients primarily because it’s the first time I can recall a dollar amount associated with exercise.

There are tons of studies reporting the health advantages of this or that exercise regimen or diet, and the contrasting health data for inactivity, obesity and certain deleterious lifestyle choices.

But this placing of a specific value on exercise for a subset (heart disease) of more than 26,000 Americans age 18 and older is striking because in ten years’ time worth of reduced medical costs, the number grows to $25,000; not a trifling sum for most, if not all, of us. Even five years, or just two; it’s still not insignificant.

Steve's Take: Given the large #financial savings, why don't more of us #exercise? Click To Tweet

So why don’t more of we Americans exercise? We’re not talking running a marathon each week. The exercise the American Heart Association is talking about is at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week, or a combination of the two.

Moderate activity–which causes a light sweat, or only modest increases in breathing or heart rate–includes fast walking, lawn mowing or heavy cleaning. Vigorous activity includes running or race walking, lap swimming or aerobics. WebMD comes to our rescue with a list of the top six exercise excuses with suggestions for beating them. Here are the excuses:

1: “I don’t have time.”

2: “I’m too tired.”

3: “I don’t get a break from the kids.”

4: “Exercise is boring.”

5: “I just don’t like to exercise.”

6: “I’ve tried before.”

Other popular “reasons” we don’t exercise are:

7: “I’m not seeing any changes in my body.”

8: “I can’t afford a gym membership.”

9: “Exercise is hard and hurts.”

10: “I can’t stay motivated to continue working out and always give up.”

These are all good excuses, and I’ve employed all of them at some point in my completely un-magnificent athletic career. But Dr. Nasir says he hopes that people who are reluctant to exercise might now consider the real possibility that not moving is costing them money.

This time though, he’s not talking in the abstract, as so many of his esteemed medical colleagues have done in the past. For people with heart disease, and were talking millions of us, the number is at least $2,500 (about €2,222) annually.

And there are millions more of us with chronic diseases beyond the heart subset who almost certainly also could swap inactivity for another $2,500 each year. That’s enough to take a modest, bucket-list category vacation. Anyone motivated to Tevo what you’re watching and perhaps take a nice, brisk walk?