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Exercise is Good for Your Health and Your Wallet, Evidence Shows

(ARA) ń Budget-minded families are looking to cut expenses that seem like a luxury, or even just frivolous — including gym memberships. Yet mounting evidence suggests that cutting out the gym may be exactly the wrong move for even the most cash-strapped family.

In its just-released report of annual health spending figures, published in the journal Health Affairs, the federal government confirmed that chronic illness accounts for 75 percent of all health spending. Yet exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce your risks for chronic illness and your medical bills.

ěTo put that in financial terms, for every dollar you spend on wellness, you can save as much as five dollars or more on illness,î says Dr. Richard Kreider, director of the exercise and sport nutrition laboratory at Texas A&M University. He has studied the effectiveness of the Curves womenís fitness program for the past five years.

ěThe women in our studies have been able to lose weight, gain muscle strength, raise metabolism, and make significant medical improvements in blood pressure, resting heart rate and aerobic fitness,î Kreider says. ěMany of them no longer suffer from the chronic conditions that cost them so much money for medications and doctor visits.î

This can add up to a bundle of savings. The Health Affairs report shows that the average annual out-of-pocket expense for someone with cancer is $8,411, but the good news is that regular exercise can help you avoid the disease and the costs associated with it. A major report by the American Institute for Cancer Research published in 2007 found that obesity plays a key role in increasing the risk for many cancers — including breast cancer — by as much as 60 percent. And a study just published in the journal Cancer found that obesity increased womenís risk for ovarian cancer by a whopping 80 percent.

The benefits go beyond reducing the risk of cancer. A recent landmark study by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota found that people who went to the gym at least eight times a month had significantly lower healthcare costs than those who did not. These frequent gym attendees had:

* 39 percent fewer emergency room visits
* 41 percent fewer hospital admissions
* 18 percent lower overall claims costs

The research, then, is clear. ěExercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight can save not only your life, but your money as well,î says Kreider. ěYour health is your most precious asset, and not taking care of it is going to cost you more in the long run.î

So how can you get to the gym without breaking the bank? Many clubs are offering great deals on memberships because of the economy. Also, check with your health insurance provider to see if they have a wellness program that offers rebates on dues and membership fees. Some fitness centers, like Curves, have partnered with major health insurance and third-party providers, including Healthways SilverSneakers, AARP and Blue Cross Blue Shield, to make the cost of membership even more affordable. To learn more, visit www.curves.com.

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