Yet more reason for encouraging fitness in middle age. A new study that includes over 20,000 subjects has found that subsidizing exercise or fitness related programs for adults during their mid-life years could have a significant impact on the always rising costs of health care these patients will need in later years.
Fit middle-aged adults, both men and women, were found to have far lower medical expenses in later life compared to those who didn’t bother staying in shape.
Study subjects were screened for earlier heart attacks, previous strokes and any diagnosis of cancer. Out of the nearly 20,500 subjects considered “healthy” the majority were men, with both genders having a mean age of 51 years. Many of the participants in the study were business exec’s who attended the Center for routine physical checkups.
The fitness levels of the participants was determined by a test on a treadmill that measured metabolic equivalents (METs). The greater the METs, the more physically fit the subject is considered. Those who exercise regularly, do better on this test as they have an increased aerobic capacity, and this brings better cardiorespiratory health.
The study participants who were most fit were found to have 38% lower medical costs compared to those who were the least fit. This was determined by examining Medicare and supplemental insurance claims made from the ten-year period 1999 to 2009.
The average claims per year for medical costs among the least fit males were $5,134, about 36% higher than the $3,227 spent by the fit males. For women, the least fit had claims of $4,566 (almost 40% higher) while the most fit spent just $2,755 on medical care for the year.
The least fit subjects also had more health compromising risk factors – 31% of the unfit men were smokers (only 9% of the fit men smoked); almost 5% of the least fit males were diagnosed with diabetes compared to less than 2% of the most fit males. The patterns were similar for the female subjects.
It seems fair to say that being fit in midlife helps with medical costs, even after the researchers controlled for other things that might impact costs. Smoking status, having high blood pressure or being obese.
This lends power to programs, such as Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign intended to bring down the alarming rates of childhood obesity. Right now, according to some experts the best medicine doctors have to offer patients is exercise. It positively impacts blood pressure, risk of diabetes and mood – the effect on the body can be both powerful and empowering.