THURSDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) -- Subsidizing exercise and
fitness-related lifestyles in middle age could significantly reduce
the ballooning cost of health care in later years, a new study of
more than 20,000 people suggests.
The study, slated for Thursday presentation at an American Heart
Association meeting in Atlanta, found that fit middle-aged men and
women had significantly lower medical expenses later in life
compared to people who failed to stay in shape.
The more-fit study participants had 38 percent lower medical
costs many years later, measured by Medicare and other insurance
claims from 1999 through 2009.
"We wanted to determine if higher levels of physical fitness in middle age are associated with lower costs later in life," said study author Dr. Justin Bachmann. "We found that fitness confers dividends later in life even when other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and obesity are controlled for."
The implications of the findings give "credence to efforts like
Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' campaign," he said. The First Lady
has initiated a project aimed at reducing childhood obesity through
exercise and proper nutrition.
Levels of fitness were determined by a treadmill test measuring
metabolic equivalents (METs), Bachmann said. The higher the METs,
the more fit a person is. People who exercise regularly perform
better on the test because they have greater aerobic capacity,
which translates into better cardiorespiratory health and lower
costs later in life, he said.
The study was a collaboration between the University of
Texas-Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute, both in
Researchers screened participants for previous heart attacks,
strokes and cancer. Of the 20,489 given a "healthy" designation,
16,186 were men and 4,303 were women, with an average age of 51.
When Medicare costs and other insurance payments were compared, the
average age was about 72, Bachmann said. The study participants
were drawn from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, a repository
of health-related data from close to 100,000 patients collected
over the past four decades.
Many of the study participants were business executives who went
to the center for physicals and represent "an unusually healthy
cohort," reducing the effect of confounding factors, Bachmann
The analysis controlled for health risks, such as smoking,
diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body-mass
index (BMI). Body-mass index, used to measure the impact of
obesity, is based on a combination of height and weight in
Even in the presence of risk factors, better fitness in middle
age predicted lower medical costs later.
The least-fit group at the study's onset had higher risk factors
across the board. For example, 31 percent of the most out-of-shape
men smoked, compared with 9 percent of the most-fit men. About 5
percent of the least fit men had diabetes, vs. less than 2 percent
of men in the best condition. A similar pattern existed for women
in the study.
Average annual claims for medical costs for the least-fit men,
at $5,134, were about 36 percent higher than the average of $3,277
a year for the most-fit men. The average medical claims of $4,565
for the least-fit women were about 40 percent higher than the
$2,755 average for the most fit.
Another expert called the study "quite compelling" and connected
the results of the treadmill tests to regular exercise, promoting
it as a path toward fitness.
"Exercise is the best medicine we have," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Noting that exercise has an impact on blood pressure, diabetes and even mood, she said "the positive effect of exercise on the body is powerful and it's empowering."
Exercise affects "so many chronic conditions leading to major
health care costs," said Steinbaum, who also is the hospital's
director of women and heart disease. "We should have financial
support for people to go to gym facilities."
People who are more fit should "get some benefit" from insurers,
Steinbaum said. Society should "give them the ability to become
fit," and then "give people a reward when they demonstrate"
fitness, she added.
Because the new study was presented at a medical meeting, the
data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until
published in a peer-reviewed journal.
To learn more about physical fitness, visit
U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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