Efforts to encourage physical fitness don't have to be expensive

June 18, 2000

Cost-effective approaches exist to help jump-start physical activity among sedentary adults, according to a study.

"The results may be of interest to insurance companies, who are coming under increasing pressure to maintain the health of their enrollees and, thus, reduce utilization of health care services," said study author Mary Ann Sevick, ScD, RN, of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC.

Approximately 31 percent of Americans never exercise, according to the study. This physical inactivity results in higher rates of costly diseases including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Sevick and colleagues tested two methods of increasing physical activity among 235 sedentary study participants. With the "lifestyle" approach, participants were taught problem solving and self-management skills to help them incorporate exercise into their lives. With the "structured" approach, participants received aerobic exercise training at a fitness center.

Both approaches significantly improved participants' levels of physical-activity and aerobic fitness, to a comparable degree, Sevick and colleagues found. However, the "lifestyle," or fitness-counseling approach was more cost effective, averaging out to approximately $17/month for each participant over the two-year study period, compared to approximately $50/month for the "structured" intervention.

The results appear in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

One limitation of the study was that it did not take into account the long-term effects of each approach over the course of the participants' lifetimes. Also, more research is needed to compare physical activity approaches to other preventive measures commonly used in primary care, according to the researchers.

Noting a recent Surgeon General's report asserting the importance of fitness promotion to the nation's health, Sevick said, "Determining the most clinically effective and cost-effective approach to increasing activity among sedentary individuals is necessary for developing a comprehensive national initiative for better health through physical activity."
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This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center of Wake Forest University, and by donations of exercise equipment from Nordic Track, Stairmaster, Cybex, PreCor, and the Yamax Corporation.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, sponsored by the Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine and the American College of Preventive Medicine, is published eight times a year by Elsevier Science. The Journal is a forum for the communication of information, knowledge, and wisdom in prevention science, education, practice, and policy. For more information about the Journal, contact the editorial office at 619-594-7344.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health http://www.cfah.org . For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, pchong@cfah.org 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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