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Financial Benefits of Exercise: How Physical Activity Pays Better Than Your Day Job

Updated on June 11, 2012

When someone tells you, “Working out will pay dividends later on in life,” we usually only think of the physical benefits. Exercise makes us physically healthier, stronger and more energetic, but have you ever considered that exercising may actually have a positive effect on your financial health?

If you break it down to an hourly wage, how much does it pay (literally) to work out?

To figure this out, we will have to make some assumptions based on previous scientific research. First, how much do you need to exercise per week to maintain a healthy weight? Second, how much does it cost if you were to become unhealthy?

1. The Cost of Inactivity

According to a George Washington University study, the annual cost of being obese is $4,879 for women and $2,646 for men. This study included factors ranging from lost productivity to the extra gasoline as a result of additional weight on your car.

2. How Much Time Do You Need to Exercise?

The common misconception is that “working out” requires at least an hour of intense lifting/running/ab work that leaves your shirt drenched and muscles sore for at least 3 days. Or that in order to “stay in shape,” you have to spend hours running miles and miles. Research has not only shown that you don’t have to spend hours working out to be healthy, but that it may actually be ideal to spend less time exercising.

The ideal length for weightlifting has been shown to be 42 minutes. After that, your body begins to lose benefits and may even start to store additional fat because of the stress hormone, cortisol. Research has shown that a 23-minute interval training routine burns 450% more fat than running 6+ miles per day.

Hourly Wage of Working Out

Assuming you did 3 of these 42-minute weightlifting sessions and 3 of the 23-minute interval training sessions per week, you would spend a total of 195 minutes working out. Assuming that was enough to keep you in a healthy weight category, your hourly exercise wages would be $15.65/hour for guys and $28.87/hour for gals.

Pretty impressive, but that’s not even considering the effect of taxes. These savings are tax-exempt, which means that your nominal (pre-tax) wages jump to roughly $18.78 and $34.64, respectively. If we add that up to be an annual salary, that's $39,062 per year for men and $60,050 per year for women.

Other Benefits of Exercise

While exercising saves you money, the most valuable benefits go beyond keeping your wallet in shape:

  • Reduced Aging

A University of California-San Francisco study found that exercise might actually reverse (or at least slow down) the aging process. Researchers showed that the cells of those who exercised showed fewer signs of aging. In a study of elderly adults, those who were active scored significantly better on cognitive function than their non-active counterparts. In fact, they found that those who exercised had a 30% higher chance of maintaining 100% of their cognitive function over the span of 8 years.

  • Better Psychological State

Research has nearly conclusively proven that physical exercise significantly reduces all types of psychological anxiety (stress, depression, etc.) regardless of type, intensity or duration of exercise. Furthermore, exercise releases endorphins, which leave you feeling better all day long!

  • Improved Self-Esteem

One of the most desirable things about regular exercise is the improved physique, which leaves you looking thinner, healthier and younger. You will feel better about yourself and more confident as a result.

  • Increased Job Performance

Research of 210 workers showed that exercise had a positive impact on 14 out of 18 factors, which included mental performance,interpersonal performance, and ability to manage time and demands. 65% of workers who worked out during the day showed statistically significant increases in all 3.

  • Improved Learning

Researchers have also found that exercises increases “growth factors” in the brain, which help create new brain cells and establish new connections. These add up to better learning. German researchers also found that high-schoolers scored better on high-attention tasks after just 10 minutes of activity.

  • Promotes Better Sleep

Northwestern University research showed those suffering from chronic insomnia were able to increase length of sleep by 1.25 hours. Not only that, but their sleep quality improved, they had fewer depressive symptoms, more energy, and suffered from less sleepiness during the daytime.

Make time for staying active and you’ll find it to be one of the most rewarding things you could ever do for yourself. If you’re not sure where to start, Google is a pretty good place. Here are a few articles to get you started:

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