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How Working Out Can Save You Money

The hidden medical, professional, and environmental benefits of getting some exercise.

by Becky Ferreira
Mar 5 2018, 1:03pm

Photo via Getty Images

When life gets busy, exercise is often the first thing to be axed from our daily routines. It can be a struggle to summon the energy to go for a run after a tiring day at work, or commit to that weekend spin class when you’d rather catch up on sleep. Add to that the financial burden of gym memberships or workout equipment, and it’s no wonder that 80 percent of American adults don’t meet the Center for Disease Control’s fitness guidelines, which suggest a few hours of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity per week.

But there’s a handy trick to beating the workout doldrums, and that’s focusing on the hidden savings that come with physical fitness. While it’s well-known that exercise correlates to longer lifespans, improved mood, and other health benefits, the impact of all these factors on your wallet aren’t as immediately obvious, but staying fit can help you stay solvent.

Save ~$2,500 Annually on Medical Expenses

Heart disease is a leading cause of death across nations and backgrounds; you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t been directly affected by it. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular problems and that correlation, in turn, decreases the odds of medical expenses.

According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, people who met moderate physical activity guidelines—a half hour of exercise five times a week—saved, on average, about $2,500 annually in heart-related medical bills compared with people who did not exercise.

The study was based on a 2012 survey of 26,239 American adults, so the cost savings are unique to the US healthcare system, and to cardiovascular problems. But other nations have found similar economic benefits to fitness in their own research. For instance, a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that a 10 percent increase in physical activity among Australians would save the nation $258 million AUD yearly, due to reduced healthcare costs and increased productivity.

Considering that the average cost of a gym membership hovers around $800/year, the savings in medical costs more than compensate for the expense of joining a fitness center (not to mention that jogging, biking, or following along with online exercise lessons are all super cheap workout options).

Get a Raise at Work

There’s nothing quite like the endorphin rush that comes with obliterating a fitness goal, whether it’s nailing that tough yoga pose, finishing your first 10K race, or scoring a winning kick on the soccer field. These well-documented boosts to mood and self-confidence tend to have positive repercussions for other parts of life as well—including higher wages.

For instance, a 2011 study in the Journal of Labor Research found that Americans who regularly exercise made about 6 to 10 percent more than people who did not. Moreover, those who regularly participated in vigorous physical activity earned more than those who only engaged in moderate physical activity. In other words, the more you feel the burn, the more money you are likely to earn (yes, we went there).

This interesting correlation between exercise and improved work results can be measured even before people begin their professional careers. A 2014 study from Frontiers in Psychology showed that short bursts of aerobic activity boosted academic achievement for low-income adolescent students, suggesting that creating good fitness habits at a young age could pay dividends down the line.

Cut Down Your Transportation Budget

If you’re lucky enough to live within a walkable or bikeable distance from your job, you might want to join the millions of pedestrians and pedalheads who have eschewed car or public transit commutes. Not only is this an easy way to fit exercise into a busy schedule, it also saves money on mobility expenses such as gas or subway and bus fare. How much money you save by subbing out a bike for a car depends on numerous factors, but people who have made the switch have reported cost benefits ranging from $2,000 to $7,000 annually.

In addition to these personal savings, there are macroeconomic upsides to encouraging human-powered transportation (like walking and biking) over car trips whenever possible. Fewer motorists on the road would reduce traffic congestion, fossil fuel pollution, and stress on transportation infrastructure, all of which take a toll on the public health, economics, and environment of communities.

Research conducted by the nonprofit Institute for Transportation and Development Policy found that investment in pedestrian routes and bike lanes could decrease urban transportation CO2 emissions by 11 percent by 2050. So if you’re looking for ways to help curb climate change, hopping on your bike for your next errand is a great way to start.

Getting the recommended amount of exercise can seem like a daunting timesuck, especially for people who haven’t yet found a sport or activity they really enjoy. But if your New Year’s resolution to lose a few pounds never seems to stick, maybe the prospect of saving an extra few grand in the bank each year will get you motivated to work up a sweat.

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