Today we are talking about the financial benefits of exercise. Maybe this morning’s segment will inspire some of us to cultivate good habits. 

Mellody:  It very well could! We have talked about the link between physical health and financial health here before, but a new study shines some light on the individual financial benefits of being active. Health experts and policymakers have known for years that populations that are more sedentary and less fit cost more from a public health perspective. This is because individuals in these populations are at a greater risk to develop a number of diseases.

These diseases are extraordinarily expensive from healthcare and economic productivity perspectives. A study published in the Lancet looked at data from 142 nations about the costs that were likely to be incurred by people who suffered from illnesses associated with a sedentary lifestyle, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and others. Researchers estimated that these diseases cost the global economy almost US, the total was almost $28 billion. But there is good news. These costs can be reduced significantly if we get up and move around. And the financial benefits to be accrued for each of us are big.

That is a lot of money. How much does an individual benefit from exercise, financially speaking?

According to the study, people who exercise pay $2,500 less in annual health care expenses related to heart disease than someone who did not exercise for 30 minutes five times per week. This total included savings of $400 on prescription medicines and far fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Think about what $2,500 could mean for your retirement account, or paying off debt. And while the study focused on heart disease, researchers do believe that the benefits extend too many of the other diseases linked to sedentary lifestyles that I mentioned above, including diabetes. After all, the lead researcher on this study pointed out that because it focused only on expenses related to heart disease, the actual financial benefits from being active could be much higher than $2,500.

How did they calculate this amount per person?

Obviously, the billions of dollars in healthcare costs are huge, but they can be difficult for people to understand on a personal level. To improve our ability to conceptualize what those costs mean for us, the researchers conducting this study set out to determine individual financial benefits of healthier living. That way, people can be better able to weigh the costs and benefits of skipping a walk to binge on the latest Netflix show.

First, they gathered information about how we spend money on healthcare, using information from the annual medical expenditure panel survey. This governmental survey asks a large, representative group of Americans about how much, and how, they spent their money on health care in the past year. The survey also asks about any illnesses respondents have had in the past year, lifestyle issues – including income, educational level, smoking, and how often the person engages various forms of exercise. Using this data, along with information about how much each person had spent on health care, they estimated that being physically active impacted how much people spent by around $2,500 on average.

You don’t have to be a gym rat to reap these financial benefits?

Not at all! This study came to their conclusions by separating people into two groups: those who met the national exercise guidelines, which recommend that people work out moderately for 30 minutes five times a week, and those who did not meet it. Now before you say that that is a lot, moderate exercise includes a number of things. Moderate activities include brisk walking, leisurely bicycling, or even raking leaves. so simply taking a stroll with a friend or doing some yard work every week count as activities that can help to put you on the path towards greater personal, and financial, health.


Mellody is president of Ariel investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts.  Additionally, she is a regular financial contributor and analyst for CBS news and

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