New Study Finds 196 Million Reasons To Start Exercising

Anyone who partakes in modern society has heard ad nauseam about the lifestyle benefits of healthy living. You’ll lose weight. Have more energy. Sleep better. Maybe go on a few more dates. Yeah, yeah, yeah…….you get it.

On some level we understand, but these benefits, while pleasant abstractions, don’t convey a sense of urgency. The sense of urgency we often need to get off our butts and do something.However, in March 2011 researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia estimated the benefits of a healthy lifestyle with a measurement that has a knack for spurring us to action: dollar figures. Surely, something we can all relate to.

The paper was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, and it measured the national cost of physical inactivity with the purpose of answering one question: how much wealth would Australians gain if they increased their activity levels by 10 percent?

The researchers tackled the problem by using reported activity levels of Australian adults and then applying statistical models across large data sets to determine how an increase in physical activity would affect disease rates, levels of sickness, missed work days, leisure time, and other lifestyle indicators. Similar data crunching techniques were then used to measure the economic value of the changes in each variable.

And as it turns out, Australians are costing themselves a pretty penny. 19.6 billion pennies to be exact. That was the estimated value of the additional health care savings and productivity gains that could be realized if Australians were 10 percent more active. In addition to the dollar amounts, it was also estimated that the increase in activity would result in 2,000 less deaths, 6,000 fewer incidents of disease, 114,000 extra working days, and 118,000 more days to do work at home.

These types of results are not unique to Australia. All across the developed world health scientists have been estimating the lost productivity from being a couch potato and the results are pretty consistent. For example, similar studies done on the populations of the UK, Canada, and the USA have estimated the national costs of physical inactivity to be 1 billion, 5 billion, and 24 billion, respectively. On a per-person basis, all three studies measure the total cost of inactivity to be several hundred dollars a year.

It’s also important to realize what these studies aren’t measuring. Specifically, they aren’t measuring the extra costs from conditions that are associated with physical inactivity, such as obesity or diabetes.  If you add up the dollars we spend on insulin treatments, high blood pressure medicine, and the lost days at work from those types of ailments, the total cost of our sedentary lifestyles is multiples higher.

When you read your pay-stub at the end of the month, you won’t see a deduction taken out for the “Bad Health Tax”, but that doesn’t mean poor lifestyle choices come free. You just pay for them indirectly. The days you feel like doing nothing, unexpected sickness, or maybe a harder time bouncing back from illness all exact a toll on your wallet, and bad habits have their presence rooted in each one.

So the next time you’re trying to summon the motivation to get off your couch and exercise, remember that you’re not just doing it to become a better person or to cloak yourself in moral pieties. You can be much more practical than that. Just ask yourself if you could use an extra hundred bucks this month.


  1. Dominique A Cadilhac, Toby B Cumming, Lauren Sheppard, Dora C Pearce, Rob Carter and Anne Magnus. The economic benefits of reducing physical inactivity: An Australian example. Intl Journal of Behv. Nutr. and Phys Activity. March 2011.
  2. Scarborough P, Bhatnagar P, Wickramasinghe KK, Allender S, Foster C, Rayner M. The economic burden of ill health due to diet, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol and obesity in the UK: an update to 2006-07 NHS costs. J Public Health (Oxf). 2011 May 11.
  3. Katzmarzyk PT, Janssen I. The economic costs associated with physical inactivity and obesity in Canada: an update. Can J Appl Physiol. 2004 Feb;29(1):90-115.
  4. Colditz GA. Economic costs of obesity and inactivity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Nov;31(11 Suppl):S663-7. Review.

Jonathan Bechtel

Jonathan Bechtel is the founder of Health Kismet, a green superfood powder that condenses 35 types of raw produce into a powder that can be mixed with water, juice, smoothies, or into a meal. He blogs at

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