New research suggests there are huge cost savings in the long run from maintaining higher levels of daily physical activity throughout life. 

A recent study broke down the average cost savings throughout the retirement years of people who engaged in leisure-time physical activity throughout adult life. The results were very clear—each year, people who were more active as adults saved between $500-$3,000 in Medicare costs per year during retirement years. People who exercised more and people who started exercising earlier in adult life saw the greatest savings per year during retirement years.

Breakdown of the new study’s findings

This study adds to existing research suggesting that daily physical activity leads to cost savings from avoidance of expensive medical care later in life, and it was able to quantify just how much. The study broke people down into multiple trajectories and found that those who started exercising earlier saw greater savings, but the possibility to save on health care was there to anyone who began to engage in leisure-time physical activity as an adult. While this study’s population was limited to mostly white adults in their 60s self-reporting exercise activities from years ago, the results were promising.

Those in the trajectories who started a bit later in life saved about $800 a month in Medicare cost during retirement years, while those who started in their 20s saved up to about $2,400 a year in Medicare costs. Those who started engaging in leisure-time physical activity in their 30s and 40s tended to save an average of $1,000-$2,000 a month in Medicare costs during retirement years.

Where did they see the biggest savings?

Savings in this study showed up in several facets of care  from fewer doctor visits, trips to the ER and prescription medications. Virtually every aspect of healthcare was utilized less by people who maintained physical activity throughout adult life, adding up to quite a bit of cost savings over time. 

The greatest savings, however, were seen with issues related to cardiovascular disease. Medications, devices, and ER visits that pertain to complications of cardiovascular disease create some of the biggest Medicare costs of all health problems in the U.S. People who engaged in regular cardio exercise—sometimes even as simple as 20-30 minutes of extra leisure walking per day—resulted in about $500 a month savings per month during retirement years.

What about for people who are already retired?

This study focused on people who started exercising before their retirement years began, but there’s plenty of other existing research indicating that it’s never too late to see cost savings from physical activity. One study found that people in their retirement years who engaged in community health programs lowered their risk factors for significant, potentially costly medical  events such as heart attacks falls and doctor visits related to chronic illnesses. The subjects of this study who participated in community health events also lived longer and experienced fewer painful medical emergencies in late life.

Exercise, performance and psychological health

There are several mechanisms for how leisure-time physical activity can lead to cost-savings. The association between cardiovascular exercise and a healthier cardiovascular system in later life is only one of them. People who engage in regular exercise also experience better mood management, which builds up psychological health over time. Experts suggest that a better state of mental health might lead to better dietary choices, further cementing the healthy lifestyle that leads to cost savings over time.

Exercise and leisure-time physical activity can produce so many benefits to the body, mind, emotional state, and finances. For those looking for an extra push to add just a few more minutes of walking per day or one more active hobby to their lifestyle, these findings on huge financial savings in retirement years can be another boost in motivation.