Exercise Can Save Your Life. Can It Save You Money?

Seniors enjoying an exercise outing

Research studies provide us with plenty of motivation to get off the couch and lace up our gym shoes. Exercise is the No. 1 way to improve our health as we grow older. On average, seniors who exercise live longer, decrease their risk of a host of ailments, and better manage their existing health conditions. They improve their mood, lower their pain level and enjoy better function. And most experts agree that exercise is the best "prescription" for brain health.

If a healthy body and mind aren't enough motivation, what about a healthy bank account? A study published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that exercise can lower healthcare costs—both for the nation, which would stand to save billions if more people were physically active, and for individual patients as well.

In the study, a research team from Baptist Health South Florida examined the data of 26,000 Americans, looking at the healthcare costs of people who took part in a regular exercise program, versus those who did not exercise.

Some of the participants were living with cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack, coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, arrhythmia or stroke. Among that group, those who exercised regularly had yearly medical costs that were on average $2,500 lower than the group that didn't exercise. Explains study author Dr. Khurram Nasir, "Even among an established high-risk group such as those diagnosed with heart disease or stroke, those who engaged in regular exercise activities reported a much lower risk of being hospitalized, having an emergency room visit and use of prescription medications."

Even the healthiest participants, those without heart disease and with fewer risk factors for it, had average medical costs $500 lower than those who didn't exercise. That would certainly pay for some pretty nice workout clothes and a gym membership! Says Dr. Nasir, "The message to the patient is clear: There is no better pill in reducing the risk of disease and healthcare costs than optimizing physical activity."

People of every age can benefit from regular physical activity. It's never too late to start! No matter what your age or health status, an appropriate exercise program can improve your health and quality of life. Talk to your healthcare provider soon about beginning an exercise program.

The doctor will probably recommend four types of exercise:

  • Aerobic exercise, which includes walking, swimming, dancing—anything that makes the heart pump faster and makes us breathe a little harder.
  • Muscle-strengthening exercises, such as lifting weights, using a resistance band, using special equipment at a gym, or doing activities that make you lift your own body weight, such as toe stands.
  • Flexibility exercises, such as stretches or yoga, to improve range of motion and freedom of movement.
  • Balance exercises, such as tai chi, to improve our sense of position and reduce the risk of falls.

Talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Certain activities may be adapted, or in some cases not recommended, for people with health conditions such as heart failure, arthritis, osteoporosis, balance impairment or high blood pressure. As you begin, supervised exercise may be recommended at first.

Senior walking with home care worker

Also of note: Today, more seniors than ever are overweight. Maintaining a healthy weight is a worthy goal, and exercise helps. Even if a person doesn't lose weight, it's good to know that a March 2017 study published by the European Society of Cardiology reported that exercising is even more beneficial than losing weight for obese elders. However, seniors who are overweight sometimes hesitate to take part in an exercise class, fearing that they will be injured, or unable to keep up, or that they will experience "fat shaming." Today, there are programs especially for overweight elders to help them exercise in a positive, safe environment.

Where can you find an exercise program for older adults? Check out the offerings of your local community center, senior center or private health clubs. Or form your own exercise club—working out with friends can be motivating! Some people prefer to work out at home, perhaps using a video. If you or a loved one uses in-home care, the caregiver can provide supervision and encouragement during exercise, indoors or out.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.