THURSDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) -- Subsidizing exercise and fitness-related lifestyles in middle age could significantly reduce the ballooning cost of health care in later years, a new study of more than 20,000 people suggests.
The study, slated for Thursday presentation at an American Heart Association meeting in Atlanta, found that fit middle-aged men and women had significantly lower medical expenses later in life compared to people who failed to stay in shape.
The more-fit study participants had 38 percent lower medical costs many years later, measured by Medicare and other insurance claims from 1999 through 2009.
"We wanted to determine if higher levels of physical fitness in middle age are associated with lower costs later in life," said study author Dr. Justin Bachmann. "We found that fitness confers dividends later in life even when other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and obesity are controlled for."
The implications of the findings give "credence to efforts like Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' campaign," he said. The First Lady has initiated a project aimed at reducing childhood obesity through exercise and proper nutrition.
Levels of fitness were determined by a treadmill test measuring metabolic equivalents (METs), Bachmann said. The higher the METs, the more fit a person is. People who exercise regularly perform better on the test because they have greater aerobic capacity, which translates into better cardiorespiratory health and lower costs later in life, he said.
The study was a collaboration between the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute, both in Dallas.
Researchers screened participants for previous heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Of the 20,489 given a "healthy" designation, 16,186 were men and 4,303 were women, with an average age of 51. When Medicare costs and other insu
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