Americans Skimp On Healthy Activities In Bad Economy

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Yet another negative result of the bad economy: Americans are cutting back on healthy activities such as eating fresh foods and exercising regularly.

In a national omnibus survey of 1,000 people conducted in March 2009 by the American Heart Association:

* 57 percent said the economy has affected their ability to take care of their health.

* 32 percent have made a change in the last six months to save money, such as delaying preventive care appointments, not taking medications or skipping the dentist.

* 25 percent of those with gym memberships have cancelled in the previous six months.

* 42 percent plan to make changes in the next six months that may impact their health, such as buying fewer fruits and vegetables.

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Results of the study spell trouble for Americans' overall well-being and heart health in particular, said Timothy Gardner, M.D., President of the American Heart Association.

"We've made dramatic gains in recent years in our fight against heart disease and stroke, but trends like these threaten to reverse these gains. We need to remind people that even in hard times their health is important. Physical activity, in particular, is an easy, inexpensive way for people to prevent heart disease and manage their stress -- another byproduct of a tough economy."

The American Heart Association encourages walking because it's the most accessible form of physical activity and it has the lowest drop out rate among Americans. The association supports the federal government's recently revised guidelines for physical activity, which focus more on a cumulative amount of activity over a week, rather than a specific amount each day.

"The message now is that physical activity can be worked in any time, anywhere," said Gardner. "The important thing is to make sure you are getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. We encourage people to incorporate regular walking into their normal routines, such as during the work day."

In the last two years, the association has recognized nearly 1,000 companies as "Fit-Friendly", meaning they champion the health of their employees and offer opportunities for wellness at work.

Employers can save $16 for every $1 they invest on health and wellness. Fitness programs have reduced employer healthcare costs by 20 percent to 55 percent, and reducing one health risk increases productivity by 9 percent and absenteeism by 2 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that physically active people save $330 per year in direct medical expenditures.

Cardiovascular disease continues to be the nation's leading cause of death, with direct and indirect costs estimated to be $475.3 billion. The savings that individuals can attribute to regular exercise not only impact their own wallets, but also those of the nation and their workplace.

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