Those yoga or spin classes may put a dent in your wallet, but perhaps not going would cost you much more. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, getting the nationally-recommended amount of weekly exercise may help you save up to $2,500 per year.
Spend Now, Save Later
The research surveyed 26,000 men and women over age 18 about their exercise habits. Half of the participants who did not have heart disease claimed to get at least the recommended amount of moderate-intensity physical exercise per week, and one-third of those with heart disease also did. The American Heart Association outlines those requirements roughly as:
- 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes (this includes activities like walking, water aerobics, biking less than 10mph, gardening)
- 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes (this includes activities like running, swimming laps, biking, jumping rope, hiking uphill)
- Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits (this includes activities like yoga and light weights)
The study divided patients based on their probable risk for developing heart complications, taking into account hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and obesity. Those who already had heart disease—coronary artery disease, stroke, heart attack, arrhythmias, peripheral artery disease—saved the most money when they invested in the recommended exercise. Researchers saw their healthcare costs drop by upwards of $2,500 per year compared to those who did not hit the association’s movement benchmarks.
But even if you’re as healthy as a horse, making time for basic daily exercise can still save you money in annual personal healthcare. Those with little risk, meaning no heart disease and just one risk factor (at most), saw about a $500 reduction in their medical costs when they met exercise requirements when compared to those who did not.
Even among the men and women with the highest risks, getting active meant lower odds of being hospitalized, heading to the ER, or taking prescription meds. So, maybe you’re toying with a new fitness class; with the money you could save dodging doctors’ trips and additional medications, it might be a justifiable investment.
Splurge on the Social Effect
Johanna Contreras, MD, an assistant professor of cardiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, suggests another reason to invest in something new may be the social aspect. “Every person is different,” she says. “But research shows that most people do better in group activities or with support groups, so investing in a class may pay off in the long-term.”
A 2009 study from Oxford showed that rowers who trained as a team were able to tolerate twice as much pain as those who trained alone. The reason? Endorphins seem to spike when you buddy up, so picking a new yoga or Zumba class might be a fun way to embrace new forms of fitness.
But, perhaps you want keep that money in your pocket and focus on simple, solo exercises. That’s also fine, and easier to coordinate! Contreras says that, especially in cold weather where “frigid temperatures can discourage even the most motivated exercisers,” there are no-cost activities you can do on your own to stay in shape.
If you can get outside, do. “Just be careful, check weather conditions and dress in layers,” Contreras says. Her first and foremost suggest? Walking. This anytime cardio gold standard may be even more important in the winter months—with slippery spots on trails making a run less viable, and snowy conditions keeping us cooped up for days at a time. “Researchers have found that the same energy used for moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running results in very similar reductions in high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease risks.”
If you can’t get outside, walk around your local grocery store, run up and down the stairs of your home or office building, or hit the mall to get your steps in. And if you want to mix it up, Contreras says to try small weights at home, dance indoors to music, play with your kids in the snow, or jump rope in your garage. “It can be easy,” she says. “Find whatever motivates you, and go for it.”
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.