The Economics of Fitness (Do healthful practices save you money?)

By Sara Nelson, PT, DPT

There are four modifiable lifestyle factors that are known to increase risk of illness.  These are inactivity, obesity, excessive alcohol/drug use and smoking.   It only takes a calculator to see that stopping a $10 a day smoking or junk food habit would save nearly $3650 per year.  But what about the cost of the vegetables you should be eating? According to the US Department of Agriculture, the cost of 9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day is $2.60.  Maybe you need some help learning how to prepare those vegetables to appeal to your palate.  So, it may be worth the cost of using a nutrition coach.

Pain management is another example of cost vs. benefit of medical intervention compared to health habits.  In recent years it has been popular to manage pain with injections, procedures and medications.   An injection can cost as much as $600 (plus the office visit).  A year’s supply of pain medication can be as much as $6000.  In the end, the person has not learned how to change their pain.  Pain may return and they are as helpless as they were on the first encounter with pain.  Compare that to the cost of rehabilitation. At $150 average physical therapy visit, that same $6000 would pay for 40 visits, and at the end of that the patient would have better fitness and skills to change their pain the next time.

Massage has also been shown, scientifically, to help pain.  You could get as many as 80 visits with that $6000!  Research is also mounting as to other health benefits provided by getting regular massage.  For instance, massage has shown to reduce blood pressure, thus helping heart health.

Let’s look further at the medical costs incurred with heart disease.  Stent placement (a mesh tube inserted into an artery in the heart) costs $30,000-$50,000.  Medications to control ischemic heart disease can be $25 to over $400/month, depending on the medications prescribed.  This doesn’t take into account the side effects of those medications.  Compare that to the cost of a gym membership or home stationary bike.  Research has shown thirty minutes of stationary biking three days per week is nearly as effective as a stent placement.  The side effect may be weight loss, improved mood, improved energy and greater mobility.

But say you have been inactive and you jump on that bike and hurt your knee.  Now, it has cost you more.  Well, there is the value of using someone to guide you in exercise who can help you to ease back into it without injury.   Other forms of guided exercise have good scientific evidence supporting their use for all kinds of health issues.  These include yoga, Qi Gong, and good old weight training.

Maybe your doctor has recommended compression stockings but you don’t want to pay the extra cost of these medical grade garments.  A procedure to correct varicose veins costs as much as $3000, and you still have to wear compression stockings afterward.

Being fit and healthy helps if you do become ill.  Those who are fit and healthy withstand the rigors of illness and treatment better than those that are unfit.  It is in your financial interest to be fit, in healthy or ill states.  The old adage is true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Spend some money now to save money (and suffering!) later!!



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