Exercise Can Save You $2,500 in Medical Bills

Exercise Can Save You $2,500 in Medical Bills
A man jogs, improving his heart health and potentially saving him money. Photo courtesy Flickr.com/Ron Merk.

Of course you know you really should be exercising more to benefit your health, but researchers have just found another incentive to become more active. A new study suggests people who exercise regularly spend less on medical bills than their couch potato counterparts, thanks to its positive effects on cardiovascular disease.

The study comes from Khurram Nasir, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Center for Healthcare Advancement and Outcomes and the High Risk Cardiovascular Disease Clinic at Baptist Health South Florida in Coral Gables, along with other researchers. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Although research has already established the benefits of exercise for quality of life and health of cardiovascular disease patients, the current study examined the financial impact in those with and without cardiovascular disease.

For their study, the researchers used data from the 2012 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, looking only at 26,239 patients over the age of 18. In particular, the researchers looked at people with cardiovascular disease, including coronary or peripheral artery disease (plaque buildup), heart failure, dysrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm), or stroke. They also looked at people with risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia), chronic kidney disease (CRF or chronic renal failure), diabetes, obesity, and smoking habits.

Although most people realize the benefits of exercise, the study discovered that not enough people actually take action. Just under half of the study participants without cardiovascular disease met the weekly exercise guidelines, and just under a third of the participants with cardiovascular disease got enough exercise each week. According to the American Heart Association, people should either moderately exercise for at least 30 minutes five days a week, such as walking fast, mowing the lawn or cleaning, or vigorously exercise for at least 25 minutes three days a week, such as running, swimming laps, or doing aerobics.

Not surprisingly, the study participants who had cardiovascular disease had higher healthcare costs than their peers who did not have cardiovascular disease. However, there was a stark difference between the cardiovascular disease participants who exercised and those who did not. The researchers calculated that just by exercising at recommended levels, people with cardiovascular disease spent more than $2,500 less per year on healthcare than those who did not exercise. It seems that in addition to exercise being a benefit for health, it can be a benefit for the wallet as well.

Exercise not only helped those with heart disease lower their healthcare costs, but it seemed to help those without heart disease as well. The healthiest study participants, who had at most one cardiovascular risk factor and who also exercised, spent an average of $500 less on medical costs per year versus their peers who did not exercise.

In the group of participants who had heart disease and stroke, the people who exercised tended to be hospitalized less often, were less likely to visit the emergency room, and tended to use fewer prescription medications. This suggests that if more people with cardiovascular disease exercised regularly, it would be less of a burden on hospital emergency rooms and less of a financial burden overall. The researchers suggest that if 20 percent more of the cardiovascular patients started to exercise, it would save billions of dollars a year in healthcare costs.

Although there are some health problems people cannot avoid, exercise is one way patients can reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, or improve their health when they have cardiovascular disease. Hopefully with the new data, patients will see that exercise can save them money, making it one more incentive to get out there and get active.

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