Aus Money

Does Exercise Save Money?

The American Heart Association is promoting an analysis from its journal that suggests regular exercise can save money. In fact, the authors of this study find that medical expenses are about $2,500 lower annually for people who meet current guidelines for regular exercise. That’s at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week.

The authors even go so far as to say “the estimates in our study are likely to be conservative.” These guys are destined for careers selling fitness.

The analysis was based on 2012 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data for measures of healthcare spending on things like prescription drugs, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations. The $2,500 savings is really just for people with a history of heart disease. For healthier folks with no more than one cardiovascular risk factor, the savings estimate was only $500.

1473338601-screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-84315-am1Naturally, health reporters have greeted this study with enthusiasm. Our favorite headline comes from Elle: “Your Expensive Boutique Fitness Habit Is Actually Saving You Thousands.” They used sassy models from a spin class to illustrate their story. We kinda doubt they really represent people with a history of heart disease.

No matter. Willing suspension of disbelief is working well.

The study has just a few little limitations. The analysis included nothing about dietary behaviors. No clinical data for risk factors like blood pressure was available. And then we have the whole problem of cause and effect. Finding an association between exercise and less healthcare spending is not quite the same thing as finding that exercise saves money on healthcare spending.

The best reason to exercise is for better health and a better life. It might save you money. It might not. As interesting as this study is, it doesn’t really answer the question.

Correlation does not equal causation – even if it seems like a really good cause.

Click here for the study and here for more from the New York Times.

Aus Money, photograph © Ersu / flickr

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September 9, 2016