A study by Newcastle University has revealed that in the US, people who were more physically active as teenagers and throughout adulthood had lower healthcare costs.
Researchers at the university analysed the data used by the National Cancer Institute’s study on diet and health. Over half a million adults were included in this study.
As part of this study, adults in 1996 who were aged 50-71 were asked how physically active they were during this time in their life. They were also asked to estimate how much exercise they got in late adolescence and early and middle adulthood.
Researchers followed up with participants between 2004-06. Many participants agreed to provide their Medicare data. Medicare is one of the top insurance programmes for American adults aged 65 years and older.
Records of only those respondents were analysed who were 65 years of age, as this is the age a person first qualifies for Medicare. Other factors such as ethnicity, education, marital status, and whether a person smoked — were also taken into account.
People were clustered into groups according to their exercise habits throughout adulthood. Researchers identified nine groups, which fell into four main categories: maintainers (36% of the group who maintained moderate to high activity throughout adulthood), decreasers (30.5% of the group who were active in early adulthood but became less active as they aged), and increasers (14.5% of the group who weren’t active in early adulthood but became more active throughout their lives). Around 18.5% of the group were consistently inactive throughout their lifetime.
Researchers found that adults who maintained or increased their physical activity from adolescence throughout adulthood had lower average annual healthcare costs than adults who were consistently inactive over time – between US$824 (£567) and US$1,874 (£1,356) per year. This is around 10% to 22% lower than those who were less active or inactive.
In contrast, adults who were active earlier in life but less active in middle-age (decreasers), did not benefit from lower healthcare costs after age 65, despite being active earlier in life. In fact, their Medicare costs were akin to those who had been consistently inactive all their life.
These findings are especially relevant to people who live in countries without universal healthcare. However, these findings apply indirectly to countries with universal healthcare, such as the UK, as a healthier population could result in lower costs for the healthcare system as a whole.