Lifelong exercise can translate to significant health care savings later on, a study suggests.
Researchers with Newcastle University in the U.K. published findings in the BMJ Sport & Exercise Medicine journal, linking Medicare claims data from 1999-2008 to the National Institutes of Health-American Association of Retired Persons (NIH-AARP) Diet and Health study, including 21,750 respondents.
Findings suggested adults who maintained moderate or high exercise levels reaped $1,200-1,350 annually in health care savings, while adults who ramped up exercise earlier in young adulthood saw greater savings, up to $1,874 each year, compared with adults consistently inactive from a young age.
Adults who took up exercise after age 35-39 also saw significant savings of $824/year.
"Adopting and maintaining a physically active lifestyle in adulthood was associated with lower Medicare costs," study authors wrote. "Respondents who increased their physical activity early in adulthood incurred the lowest average annual Medicare costs in later life."
Participants were 60 years old on average, mostly white, married and were at least high school graduates. Men represented 54% of the total.
The savings imply respondents were less likely to report health issues or history of chronic conditions, study authors wrote. Exercise is well known for its health benefits, like reducing risk of type 2 diabetes, some cancers, premature death, and cardiovascular disease, among other diseases. Exercise can also relieve stress, improve sleep and mood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends adults have at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise and least two days of muscle-strengthening activity each week.
Study authors noted approximately $117 billion in annual health care spending tied to exercise levels below current guidelines.
"Our study suggests that encouraging people to start and maintain a physically active lifestyle will benefit later-life healthcare costs. About half of the US adult population is not meeting the minimum nationally recommended level of aerobic physical activity."
"Despite recent improvements in US adults meeting physical activity guidelines over the last 10 years, only one in two adults and one in four adolescents participate in sufficient physical activity to meet current aerobic guidelines and this remains a public health concern across the USA," the study reads.