This Lifestyle Choice Can Cut Medical Costs by $1,900 a Year

Senior woman holding money
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Everyone knows exercise is good for your body. But as you get fit and slim down, you might also fatten your savings account.

A study published earlier this year found that folks who either maintained or increased physical activity from adolescence throughout adulthood saved money on health care costs later in life.

They cut their average annual health care costs by between $824 and $1,874. That meant they spent 10% to 22% less than people who were inactive throughout life or became less active over time.

The key to such results appears to be getting active and staying that way.

In fact, adults who were active earlier in life before heading to the sidelines by middle-age — dubbed “decreasers” in the study — did not see the benefit of lower health care costs after the age of 65. Their Medicare costs were similar to those of people who were inactive throughout their life.

In arriving at their conclusions, researchers looked at data from the National Cancer Institute’s Diet and Health Study, which included more than a half-million adults.

During the 1990s, that study asked adults who were then ages 50 to 71 about how physically active they were at that time. They also were asked to estimate how much they had exercised from adolescence to middle-age.

The researchers followed up with respondents between 2004 and 2006, and some participants agreed to have their study responses linked with their Medicare claims data, which the researchers used to calculate health care costs.

Medicare is the federal health insurance program for Americans age 65 and older and those with certain disabilities or diseases.

According to study co-author Diarmuid Coughlan, a research associate in health economics at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom:

“To ensure results were accurate, we only looked at respondents who were 65 years of age, as this is the age a person first qualifies for Medicare. We also adjusted our results to take into account other things that could influence the outcome, such as ethnicity, education, marital status, and whether a person smoked. This way we could be fairly certain that we were only looking at the effect of physical activity on healthcare costs.”

Wondering how your health spending compares with others? Find out in “How Much Does the Average Senior Spend on Health Care?

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