Regular exercise could save you $1,874 in annual healthcare costs after retirement

A woman wearing a blue sports top and pink hijab runs in a marathon
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We all know the common health benefits of regular physical exercise, but have you ever considered how much money exercising in your younger years could save you when you hit retirement? A recent study has done just that, and the numbers are food for thought. According to researchers, "long-term leisure time physical activity" throughout adulthood could save you between $824 and $1,874 each year on healthcare costs after retirement age (65). 

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine, was conducted by research teams from the CDC and the National Cancer Institute, among other organizations. They looked at data gathered on over 520,000 Americans, drawn from various studies ranging back to 2017, including the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.

The researchers compared participants’ exercise habits against their Medicare claims over a series of decades. The data showed that those who began exercising in their 20s saved the most money on healthcare costs every year after retirement age, up to roughly $1,874 a year. The healthier you remain throughout adulthood, the less you’re likely to require prescription medicine too, reducing your potential Medicare Part D plan costs.

Exercise was classed as walking or being active in day to day pursuits for a few hours most weeks. When commenting on the findings, the researchers said: "Our analyses suggest the healthcare cost burden in later life could be reduced through promotion efforts supporting physical activity participation throughout adulthood."

A middle aged man, in great physical shape, performs an upper body workout in a park

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The key findings of the study showed that:

  • Healthcare costs in later life were significantly lower for adults who maintained moderate (saving $1,350 a year) or high physical activity levels ($1,200 a year).
  • Adults who increased physical activity levels in early adulthood (saving $1,874 a year) or middle age ($824 a year) made bigger savings compared with adults who were consistently inactive from adolescence into middle age.

While this is just an observational study, and it has limitations, the results echo the findings of a 2015 study that estimated how inactivity among adults leads to over $100 billion in health care spending each year. 

How a daily walk could lower your healthcare costs in later age

It’s never too late to begin exercising, so if you’re currently middle aged (around 45-65) or over and are pretty sedentary most days, now is the time to get moving.

In the study, walking for a few hours every week was among the physical activities associated with lower healthcare costs, and even starting a daily walking routine in middle age can help you claw back some money on health care spending (up to $824) every year past retirement age. It might give you access to better health insurance companies too. 

Compared to something like running or cycling, walking is an accessible form of exercise for people who don’t have specific mobility requirements. Unless you plan on hitting the treadmill to get your daily steps up, you don’t need any special gear to do it either - just grab your sneakers and go. 

A senior woman dressed in a gray workout vest uses a neon green resistance band during a body strength training workout

(Image credit: Getty)

If you want some encouragement to move more often, strap on one a fitness tracker to count your steps and minutes spent being active. Many of the best ones are currently on sale among the best Amazon Prime Day Fitbit deals too, so you don’t have to spend much.

How to start a walking routine

The WHO recommends all adults aged 18-64 to take part in at least 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, which could easily take the form of daily walks. 

There are plenty of online fitness programs that can help you start walking (and jogging, cycling or practicing yoga), and the majority state that when starting a new walking routine, begin with a short, daily work, as opposed to a longer walk just once a week. 

The health benefits of walking every day are plentiful, with recent research suggesting a 32% decrease in death among people who walked for at least 2,000 steps a day in uninterrupted bouts. Take it at a pace that suits you - you don’t have to start power-walking to reap the rewards of a daily stroll. The main thing is to move your body each day. 

We’d recommend setting a daily reminder on your phone or other device, and stick to your new schedule for at least 30 days in a row to cement your new walking habit. 

The Mayo Clinic has shared a 12-week walking schedule for adults aged 40 and over who are new to regular physical exercise, recommending that you start at a pace that suits you, “Then gradually pick up speed until you're walking briskly — generally about 3 to 4 miles an hour. You should be breathing hard, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation.”

Start off with a 15-minute walk during each day of week one, varying how fast or slow you walk within that 15-minute period, before extending it to 40 minutes during Week 12. “After you've tried the walking schedule for 12 weeks, aim to increase the time you're walking briskly even more, from 30 to 60 minutes a day.”

Claire Davies

Claire is Health and Wellness Editor at Top Ten Reviews and covers all aspects of health, wellbeing and personal care. With over 17 years' experience as a qualified journalist, writer and editor, Claire has worked across some of Future's most prestigious, market-leading brands. Due to past struggles with insomnia, she is particularly passionate about the role quality sleep plays in our physical and mental health, and loves helping readers to sleep better. Claire is always keen to hear from brands regarding products and services that can help readers feel healthy, happy and empowered.