Exercise and the Global Economy
It is no secret that physical activity has significant benefits to our health. Regular activity is associated with improved mental health, and decreased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The recommended amount of physical activity by the American Heart Association and most other public health authorities is 150 minutes a week, or 5 days of 30 minutes of moderate intensity. The most common recommendation for moderate exercise is fast walking, where one can still talk comfortably with mild breathlessness from exertion. When discussing health, it is usually a very personal topic. We are educated on how the benefit of physical activity can be for us, but do we ever consider it on a bigger scale. Of how it effects not only us but our family and friends, our community, and our economy.
A group called RAND Europe was tasked to examine the implications of physical health of each individual on the global economy. It found that in high income western countries, including the USA, almost 40% of the population is inactive. This inactivity is associated with 5 million deaths worldwide and (especially in the US) increases in healthcare expenditures. However, Rand Europe predicted that small changes in our exercise routine can have huge national and global benefits. They projected that by 2050, if everyone achieved the recommended amount of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week the global GDP would increase by around $400 billion. They also found that of those who already achieved the recommended amount went further to increase their physical activity by 20%, (roughly 30 min/week) the US GDP gains are estimated to be around $175 billion in 2050. Improved health would result in decrease days off of work and improved overall productivity. Also global healthcare expenditure would decrease by $20 billion by 2050.
At first glance these numbers are astounding. Change on this scale seems impossible, especially in our culture that emphasizes individuality. But we should ask ourselves what is the longterm cost, and what is the longterm benefit if we change the behavior and attitudes of not only ourselves but the people around us.
We should not look at health at only the individual level. Many of us have more influence on the people around us than we think. How difficult would it be to encourage a family member or friend to get a gym membership with us, or go on a walk or run together on a weekly basis. Is it such big change if we take 15 minutes of our work break for a brisk walk everyday with co-workers. Or for those in management to build into the work schedule a daily 15 minutes of exercise. Or a reward system for those with a fitbit who reach 10,000 steps. Or to encourage school programs that emphasize fitness to all students. Little changes can snowball and have huge long term effects. We must remember that no one lives in a bubble, and change does not occur in a bubble. Let’s not only take our own health seriously, but the health of those around us.