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The Cost of Physical Inactivity

September 21, 2017 by Normand Richard, Certified Exercise Physiologist

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The cost of physical inactivity

I sometimes hear people say that being active is expensive. A new pair of sneakers, a gym or pool membership, or hiring a personal trainer can all get costly, it’s true.

There are, however, many low-cost to no-cost physical activities available and being inactive has much larger financial (and health!) costs on you. Let’s weigh our options.

Exercise is medicine. Motion is lotion…however you say it, being physically active has enormous health benefits. Check out a few examples from my callers.

  • Mike is 65 years of age. Both his parents died of heart disease so he is well aware regular aerobic exercise is good for the heart. He hikes on weekends and plays squash three times per week, on top of eating well and managing his stress. So far he doesn’t have to take any medications or see a cardiologist. Plus he keeps up with his grandkids easily.
    • What being active costs Mike: he pays for a yearly squash court membership, buys new hiking boots every 2 years, and a squash racquet once per year (Mike is a gear nerd).
    • What Mike saves by being active: he doesn’t have to pay for blood pressure and heart medications, spend time at cardiologist visits, and his family saves on the costs of hiring babysitters.
  • Charlene is 43 years old. She has two kids and is an only parent. Her job is not high paying and she finds it tough to make ends meet financially. She goes with her kids to the YMCA because of the affordable youth programs available. Charlene and her kids take classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Everyday Charlene walks her kids to school and walks on her lunch break.
    • What being active costs Charlene: she buys yearly YMCA memberships for her family, and new shoes every 6 months (Charlene is a bargain shopper).
    • What Charlene saves by being active: she saves energy from having less stress and she sleeps better when she’s active so she doesn’t miss work. She saves on gas and parking from active commuting. She also she saves money from potential costs of medication or care because keeping herself and her kids active helps maintain healthy weight and reduces the risks of chronic disease down the road.

Now let’s think about the bigger picture. When our broader society is active, there are huge benefits and savings for the communities we live in. Here are a few examples:

  • Biking is aerobic exercise and promotes heart health. Safe bike lanes encourage people to commute by bike. This decreases pollution and means cleaner air for everyone.
  • Promoting active free play in children from an early age can help reduce childhood obesity and install lifelong habits of physical activity. Kids who are active from an early age are more likely to stay active throughout their lives. This means a healthier population where chronic disease is less common, lowering the costs of the healthcare system.

For a more in-depth look at costs vs savings of inactivity, Hans Kruger has written a very interesting report on the economic burden of unhealthy behaviours.

I really see physical activity as an essential part of leading a healthy life. Look at being active as an investment that slowly grows – invest in it now for tomorrow.


Related blogs

3 Ways Being Active Saves You Money
Keeping Yourself Healthy and Injury Free at Home

Recommended resources

The economic benefits of risk factor reduction in British Columbia: Excess weight, physical inactivity and tobacco smoking

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