Reduce Healthcare Costs with Exercise

Reduce Healthcare Costs

Julia Basso – PhD

It’s that spooky time of year, and surely something’s scary…healthcare costs in the United States.  Countries around the world spend on average 9% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on health care.  From this graph, which represents the healthcare costs per capita as a percentage of the GDP, you can see that the United States is spending a larger percentage of their GDP than any other country including Italy, the United Kington, Japan, France, Canada, Germany, Sweden, or Switzerland. 

According to the Commonwealth Fund, [the US spends more per person on health care than many other high-income nations, but experiences worse health outcomes and lower life expectancies] (  Dr. David Blumenthal, President of the Commonwealth Fund, notes that, “We have to look at the root causes of this disconnect and invest our health care dollars in ways that will allow us to live longer while enjoying better health and greater productivity.” 

Health Care Costs

Healthcare Costs and Preventative Measures

I fully agree.  Frankly, I think that one of the best areas to put our money is into preventative measures of healthcare.  As a scientist, I am often frustrated because the government is not interested in funding preventative medicine.  For the past several years, I have been studying the effects of exercise on different aspects of behavior and brain function in healthy populations.  Even with all of the exciting, preliminary data we have showing that exercise improves mood and cognitive functioning in healthy individuals, the National Institute of Health does not seem interested in funding this research.  Instead, they want to fund research on already ill populations, such as individuals with depression, Parkinson’s disease, or dementia.  This type of clinical research is, of course, completely valid and needed, but I think it is equally important to fund research that supports existing and continued health.

Exercise is one of the best defenses we have to keep our bodies and minds healthy and happy.  A physically active lifestyle helps prevent weight gain, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.  Physical activity also helps prevent cognitive decline and stave off neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease.  Additionally, exercise can support improved sleep quality and enhanced mood.  If you happen to suffer from any of a variety of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or schizophrenia, a regular exercise program can be used to improve symptoms.  Especially important and relevant to all of us, exercise increases your changes of living longer.

Related Article: Exercise and Alzheimer’s Disease

Healthcare Benefits and Preventative Care

Because of all these reasons, exercise seems like an excellent strategy for preventative healthcare.  Just yesterday I went to the annual benefits fair at New York University. I went to better all of the benefit options that my employer offers.  I picked up a pamphlet from one of the health insurance companies and on the front cover was an image of a young couple hiking and an ad that said, “Preventative care can help you stay healthy.”  As I read further, I realized that what this company was offering was preventative care services to [discover health issues before they became a serious problem]. 

Of course, everyone should make sure to attend their annual wellness visits and get screened for obesity, blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, vision, hearing, and other issues that may arise as we age. But I think the real problem is that our healthcare system is geared towards dealing with medical issues as they arise rather than preventing them.

Suggestions for More Aid

So, what can our healthcare system be doing for us to offer actual preventive medicine?  What about healthcare companies offering compensation for gym memberships?  These fees can often be pricey and prohibitive.  For example, a monthly membership to Equinox costs around $200.  Even a gym membership to the YMCA can run you $100 a month.  The first problem we face is that exercise is too expensive.  Of course, you can just grab a pair of sneakers and go running outside.  Running, however, is not always an option for everyone.  You could also just buy a cheap subscription to an online service like Daily Burn (only $14.95 a month), where you can exercise in the comfort of your own home.  The problem there is that finding the motivation to exercise alone in front of your television can be difficult.

Reduce Healthcare Costs with ExerciseLessons

In spending the last 4 years trying to motivate people to exercise so that I can study the effects of physical activity on the brain, I have learned a few things.  First, it’s difficult to motivate people to exercise, especially those who haven’t been in the habit of exercising.  Second, the best way to get people exercising is by giving them easy access (both physical and financial) to a gym or place where they can conveniently workout.  Third, people need encouragement to start an exercise routine.  We assign what we call “exercise motivators” to each of our participants to help them exercise regularly on a weekly basis.  Fourth, once people get into the habit of exercising, they have a much easier time exercising and even want to do it!

Related Article: Those Who Run Together, Stay Together

I also think that Michelle Obama has the right idea with her “Let’s Move” initiative.  The motto of this movement is, “America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids”.  This is exactly the right mentality.  Our exercise habits as adults are heavily shaped by our relationship with exercise as children.  These formative years are extremely important in helping to develop healthy habits as we age. 

Creating A Healthy America

As a society, the issue is really how we can create a healthy America – full of people who are interested in and motivated to stay healthy as we age.  This issues is complicated and needs to be investigated in a scientific way.  Communication between scientists and policy makers will certainly help to inform future decisions about healthcare, especially when it comes to creating a healthy population of people.  With the upcoming changes in our political milieu (and I know both candidates have suggested some major changes to the healthcare system), I will be excited/anxious to see how things progress.

Related Article: Exercise Now, Stay Fit Later


You Might Like:

Women training together

How Overtraining and Undertraining Impacts Hormonal Health

While maintaining a healthy hormonal balance is essential for overall health and wellbeing, it is an often-overlooked component of women’s health. Hormones play a vital role in regulating various bodily functions, including metabolism, energy, mood,...
Jump Rope

Can Athletes Benefit from More Mitochondria?

Over the last couple of years, the term “mitochondria” has become a bit of a buzzword in the health and fitness community – but what are they, and how do they impact your health and...

Ways to Improve Your Longevity Genes

Humans are currently living longer than ever before. With advancements in healthcare, technology, and knowledge, we have begun to work out what it takes to maintain health across the lifespan, thus enhancing longevity in the...
Sardinia, Italy

Why people in “Blue Zones” Live longer

It is estimate that between 20 and 25% of your longevity is dictated by your genes – which means that more than 75% is dictated entirely by your lifestyle factors. And while research has given...
Obesity and COVID-19

Does Obesity Increase Your Risk of Coronavirus?

We are currently living in a pretty interesting time. Inundated with bad news stories on every channel, isolated from the outside world with no real social interaction, and completely unable to get the gym and...
Yoga warrior pose

12 days of Fitness: 12 Holiday workouts to crush this Christmas

Exercise partners congratulating each other during workout

Exercise After Menopause: What You Need To Know

Family outdoors

Stop Taking Loans on Your Health


New Research on How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Now


Habit Stacking: How to Build Exercise Habits


Best Time to Work Out Based on Sleep Animal


How to Workout to Promote Longevity

Woman eating healthy food

The World’s Most Powerful Antioxidant: Glutathione

Obesity and COVID-19

Does Obesity Increase Your Risk of Coronavirus?


Home Based Exercise Goals – Improve Your Fitness and Mental Fortitude

Leave a Reply