Physically fit men had fewer overnight hospital stays and visited their doctors less frequently, according to the results of a long-term study published this month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official scientific journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
The research provides further evidence of the numerous health benefits of exercise, especially for those who are unfit. By enhancing health with physical activity, experts say the frequency of utilizing the healthcare system is likely reduced, creating a cost savings in both public and private sectors.
To analyze the relationship between fitness and healthcare utilization, researchers compared the cardiorespiratory fitness level to the incidence of medical treatments in 6,679 healthy men. Researchers also set out to determine if the incidence of medical treatments decreases as one’s physical fitness improves.
Between 1970 and 1989, each participant underwent two examinations at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas, which included a complete physical examination and exercise treadmill test. During the exercise test, participants were encouraged to give maximal effort to assess their fitness capacity. Based on their fitness characteristics, the men were divided into classifications ranging from least to most fit.
Participants also completed a survey to determine health risks, lifestyle, family history and other illnesses. The questionnaire asked individuals to assess the number of visits to their physician in a one-year period, including routine check-ups and medical treatments, and to indicate whether or not a hospital stay was required in the same time period.
Those in the most-fit group were less likely to visit their doctor or require medical treatments, while the incidence of medical treatments increased in the least-fit group. Further, men who improved their fitness had a reduction in overnight hospital stays.
"Fit men, as well as those who become fit, may reduce healthcare costs by more than 50 percent,” said Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D., FACSM. “Beyond the cost-savings, we can see a reduced need for healthcare overall for fitter men. This should be a life-altering message for those who do not even meet the levels of physical activity recommended by ACSM and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
ACSM and the CDC recommend adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Further, experts agree activity can be accumulated through three 10-minute intervals during the day if one cannot achieve 30 minutes of moderately-intense exercise all at once.
The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 International, National, and Regional members are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.