Staying fit in retirement can also reduce health care costs

(BPT) - It's no secret that staying physically active supports overall well-being, especially for older adults. From reducing risks of certain conditions like heart disease and diabetes to minimizing injury and helping maintain independence, exercise is essential to supporting health and wellness as you age. Another noteworthy but often unrecognized benefit of regular exercise is that it improves overall health, which can result in lower healthcare costs.

Improved health, lower health care costs and reduced hospital stays are some of the benefits enjoyed by active seniors, according to a recent nationwide study by Avalere Health and Tivity Health, a national provider of senior fitness, nutrition and healthy lifestyle solutions, including SilverSneakers, a community fitness program designed for older adults. The study compared new SilverSneakers participants and closely matched non-participating Medicare Advantage beneficiaries.

So how much are healthcare costs reduced by participating in this program? The study’s findings showed the total cost of medical care for participants to be 16% lower than for non-participants and total annual average health expenses among participants to be $4,463 compared to $5,303 for non-participants. That can make a big difference, especially for people with fixed incomes.

Part of this reduction in costs includes fewer visits to the hospital, which can be expensive. After starting the program, participants experienced a significant 42% fewer hospital stays and 18% fewer ER visits compared to Medicare Advantage non-participants. Length of stay for hospitalizations was also significantly shorter for participants: 4.4 days compared to 5.8 days for non-participants.

"This research shows that seniors who are regularly engaged in more healthy behaviors enjoy improved health outcomes and lower health care costs compared to those who do not incorporate exercise in their daily routine," said Julie Logue, fitness expert and senior trainer at Tivity Health. “More than just exercise, the impact of senior fitness is also emotional and social, providing older adults an opportunity to make meaningful connections with others.”

Logue believes every senior can support their well-being and save on health care costs by being physically active.

She recommends the following tips to keep in mind when starting an exercise routine:

Talk with your doctor: Before you try a new fitness routine or take a class, speak with your doctor to make sure it's a good fit for your health needs. You can typically reach out through your clinic's nurse triage line or through a telehealth appointment so you can get insight without an in-person visit to the doctor's office.

Listen to your body: Whatever activity you decide to do to stay physically active, start slow and increase length or intensity as you build endurance. Any movement is better than no movement, so be proud of your efforts. Listen to your body and when you need to rest or take a break, do what feels right.

Research senior programs: Fitness programs focused on the needs of older adults help position you for success while also connecting you in community or virtually with likeminded people. SilverSneakers is a national fitness membership program that offers fitness classes designed for seniors at over 15,000 locations nationwide including a FLEX network outside of a traditional fitness center such as parks, medical centers and community centers.

Check virtual options: Not everyone is comfortable with indoor fitness, so consider online alternatives. Members have access to more than 13,000 instructor-led live classes each month as well as over 200 classes in our On-Demand library.

Check eligibility: Some health plans offer options for low-cost or no-cost fitness programs. For example, SilverSneakers is available at no cost for adults 65 and older through select Medicare plans. Visit silversneakers.com to verify eligibility.

"Improving health and combating social isolation and loneliness are significant benefits of senior fitness, the measurable reduction in health care costs can't be ignored,” said Logue. “There are a variety of programs to suit all interests, abilities and lifestyles to help seniors find safe, enjoyable and convenient ways to get moving today.”

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