In an article that appeared in the December 2016 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine authored by Dr. Caretto and others entitled “Association Between Exercise Frequency and Health Care Costs Among Employees at a Large University and Academic Medical Center”, the research clearly shows a strong association between the level of physical activity and medical/pharmacy costs. Bottom line is that individuals that complete at least 30-minutes of aerobic exercise 4-5 times per week have the lowest medical and pharmacy costs. They are healthier individuals.
Individuals with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 35 or more had the greatest costs associated with medical and pharmacy claims. However, if an obese person exercises 4-5 times per week, they have lower medical/pharmacy costs compared to other obese individuals within the same obese category. Individuals with Body Mass Indexes less than 30 had the lowest medical and pharmacy costs. Individuals across all Body Mass Index groups who exercised 0-1 time per week had the highest medical/pharmacy costs.
Why is this important to know? In a recent blog, I wrote about the first increase in the annual deaths due to heart disease and stroke in 2015 since 1969. The research mentioned above speaks to the issue of obesity as a co-morbidity as well as physical inactivity and the impact of these two factors on increasing the risk for heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. There is also a strong association with obesity/physical inactivity with risk for injury.
Within the research article stated above, the critical factor resulting in higher medical/pharmacy costs and therefore poorer health was physical inactivity. Ironically, as a country, we are moving the wrong direction- more sedentary activity than physical activity. This will only lead to more deaths, healthcare and workers’ compensation costs until the time comes when physical activity is put back into our daily routines.
It is difficult for industry to provide activity sessions in the workplace. Perhaps the best action that industry can take is to offer incentives built into the employees’ health plan to become more physically active. Legally, offer lower deductibles for those who are more physically active as supported by healthier biometric measures including physical strength.
IPCS is working with several clients who have done this and they are now realizing significant savings in medical, pharmacy and workers’ compensation costs.