Physically Active Seniors Save Medicare Money. (Analysis of 5-Year Costs)

Article excerpt

CHICAGO - Regular physical activity in seniors is associated with reduced Medicare health care costs, Dr. Russell V. Luepker reported at the annual scientific sessions of the American Heart Association.

The value of regular exercise in later life thus may extend beyond the numerous well-documented health benefits to include a financially healthier Medicare system, said Dr. Luepker, professor and head of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

He reported on an analysis of 5-year Medicare costs in 2,495 men and 3,393 women aged 65 or older who participated in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute--sponsored Cardiovascular Health Study.

At baseline during 1988-1990, participants were categorized as to physical activity level based upon frequency, duration, and intensity of activity. They were also classified as healthy (they had no known diseases and no limitations upon their ability to exercise), impaired (their ability to exercise was limited, primarily due to arthritis), or already diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.

Mean total 5-year Medicare costs--all hospital, physician, and outpatient medical expenditures--were $15,840 in the healthy group, $19,700 in the impaired group, and $22,820 in individuals with cardiovascular disease. And these are data from the early 1990s, when medical expenses were considerably lower than today.

The exercise-cost analysis of the impaired and cardiovascular disease groups was muddled, since more severe disease generally entailed higher health care costs and also forced patients to be less physically active. A much dearer picture of the financial benefits of exercise in terms of reduced health care costs emerged in the 824 men and 1,330 women in the healthy group. …