Exercise is good for health at all ages, and you can still reap the benefits early in life. But our latest research has shown another benefit of being physically active for life. We found that in the United States, people who were most physically active in adolescence and as adults had lower health care costs.

These findings are particularly relevant for people living in countries without universal health care, like the United States. However, our findings are indirectly applicable to countries with universal healthcare, such as the UK, as a healthier population could result in lower costs for the healthcare system as a whole.

For our study, we relied on data from the study of the National Cancer Institute’s diet and health, which analyzed more than half a million adults. As part of this study, in 1996 adults between the ages of 50 and 71 were asked if they were physically active during this period of their lives. They were also asked to estimate the amount of exercise they did in their late teens and early and middle adulthood.

We followed the participants between 2004-06. During this time, some agreed that their responses to the study were linked to their Medicare data. Medicare is the main program of health insurance for adults 65 or older Americans.

To make sure the results were specific, we only looked at respondents who were 65 years of age, as this is the age when one person first qualifies for Medicare. We also adapted our results to take into account several factors that could affect the result, such as ethnicity, education, marital status, and whether a person smoked. That way, we could be pretty sure that we were just looking at the effect of physical activity on health care costs.

According to our data, people were grouped into groups based on their exercise habits during adulthood. We identified nine groups, which are divided into four main categories: maintainers (36% of the group that maintained moderate to high activity during adulthood), declining (30.5% of the group that was active in early adulthood forum became less active with aging) and gainers (14.5% of the group that was not active in early adulthood but became more active throughout life). Approsimatively 18.5% of the group was constantly inactive throughout their life.
A lifetime of activity
We found that adults who maintained or increased their physical activity from adolescence to adulthood had lower average annual medical costs than adults who were consistently inactive over time, between $ 824 (£ 567) and $ 1,874 (£ 1,356). £) per year. This is approximately 10-22% less than those who were less active or inactive.

In contrast, adults who were active earlier in life but less active in middle age (decline) did not benefit from lower health care costs after age 65, despite being active earlier. In fact, their Medicare costs were similar to those of those who had been constantly inactive for their entire lives.


Although the study respondents were from different parts of the United States, it is difficult to say whether these findings would hold true for people in other parts of the world. Furthermore, because our study is based on self-reported information obtained from a survey, we cannot say whether activity levels caused lower healthcare costs. Nor could we control all the factors that may have influenced the results, as a person developed an injury that limited their activity levels.

However, similar results to ours have also been seen in other research, such as an Australian study that found that middle-aged women who were active throughout their lives saw health care costs reduced by 40% over the three years that took place. study.

That said, one in four adults worldwide does not get enough exercise, large-scale efforts to improve physical activity, especially among adolescents and young adults, could help lower health care costs and improve health. the future. . All strategies, such as working with individuals, in small groups, or at the community level, to change their levels of physical activity, have been shown to work.