DALLAS, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Getting a little healthier by getting a little more active can do more than improve physical condition: It may fatten your wallet.
People who exercise at least at minimum recommended levels can save hundreds or thousands of dollars per year in healthcare costs, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Previous studies have shown exercise can reduce risk for heart disease and stroke and improve diabetes and high blood pressure. The new study shows that in addition to benefits to health, savings as a result of needing less healthcare may add up significantly over the course of a year.
"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," Dr. Khurram Nasir, director the Center for Healthcare Advancement and Outcomes and the High Risk Cardiovascular Disease Clinic at Baptist Health South Florida, said in a press release.
For the study, researchers analyzed surveys of 26,239 people age 18 or older, roughly half of whom did not have cardiovascular disease.
The researchers report people in the study who had cardiovascular disease -- coronary artery disease, stroke, heart attack, arrhythmia or peripheral artery disease -- had higher healthcare costs.
People with cardiovascular disease who exercised at recommended levels, 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity five days per week or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days per week, had healthcare costs more than $2,500 lower than those not meeting the recommendations.
Among the healthiest participants in the survey who had at most one risk for cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking or obesity, those who exercised at recommended levels had annual healthcare costs about $500 lower than those who did not.
The researchers add that if 20 percent of cardiovascular disease patients not exercising already started to meet recommended goals, several billion dollars in healthcare costs could be saved every year.
"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," Nasir said.