Employer Fitness Programs Increases Healthy Employees

It is well accepted that regular physical activity prevents costly chronic health conditions. However, the impact that participation in physical activity promotion programs has on health care costs, and therefore employee health, has not been examined quantitatively. A new study shows the positive impact of exercise on health care costs.

office-exercises

A new study from the U.S. examined a fitness reimbursement program (FRP) offered to small employers. FRP participants received a $20 reimbursement every month they visited their fitness center ≥12 days. The effect of this reimbursement program on employee health cost and therefore overall health was determined.

Participants were assigned to 4 mutually exclusive groups by monthly fitness center visits:

  • low (<4 visits);
  • low-moderate (≥4 and <8 visits),
  • high-moderate (≥8 and <12 visits), and
  • high (≥12 visits, which qualified for reimbursement).

Groups were matched for demographic, health status, health care supply, and socioeconomic characteristics.

A total of 8723 participants were followed for an average of 11 months during October 2010-June 2013.

With all participants included, a pattern of lower per-member-per-month health care costs was observed with increasing participation: compared with the low group, monthly savings were:

  • $6.14 (2.6%) for low-moderate,
  • $43.52 for moderate-high , and
  • $52.66 for high.

It was found that 2.5% of the participants contributed to a high-cost of health care. This is not unusual as a small group of the general population is found to consume a large portion of health care costs.

What the results show is that for a modest investment of $20 per month (paid out only if the employees are high users), the health benefit is substantial. It has been shown that regular exercise improves our physical selves and also improves our ability to handle stress. The employer would therefore not only see an increase in healthy employees physically (as this study examined) but no doubt mentally and emotionally as well.

Source: Navratil-Strawn Jessica, Hartley Stephen, and Ozminkowski Ronald J.. Population Health Management. January 2016, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/pop.2015.0102.

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