My first presidential order: Pay to exercise

Cartoon by Megan Stewart

I’m thinking about running for U.S. president in 2024.

We, the biggest healthcare spender in the world, have little to show. For one, we have the highest death rate in avoidable and treatable conditions.

Today I’ll give you my first declaration: "I will pay everybody $30 per hour to exercise."

How do I justify this?

Exercise delays and mitigates 40 chronic diseases – anything from diabetes to depression to dementia to cancer. The question really is “What doesn’t exercise benefit?” 

When it comes to heart health, exercise capacity (how much you can do physically) is a more important determinant of health outcome than cholesterol number. For example, let’s say two people have 3 identical blocked heart vessels, the one that can run would have half the chance of dying than the one that can’t.

Exercise benefits are sustained. A study compared the impact of sedentary lifestyle and moderate exercise (walking 30 minutes 5 times a week) on developing diabetes. Even though the exercise intervention only lasted one year, the rate of diabetes in the exercise group was half that in the sedentary group 10 years out.

To show you how serious I am, for those with complicated issues like recent heart surgery, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, etc., I will triple the amount to $90 per hour. Study showed running reduces depressive symptoms as much as psychotherapy. Paying $90 per hour, I’ll still come ahead.

I don’t care how fast or slow you walk. I don’t care if you accrue the distance by running on a treadmill or walking in a Walmart parking lot. You keep moving, I keep paying.

Exercise answers another significant and under-addressed health determinant – social isolation. Loneliness increases the risks of dementia, depression, heart diseases, and mortality. A wonderful solution: group exercise.

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I joined the U.S. Masters Swimming. We swim in Lakewood High School with some 70 others. We’ve watched each other’s kids grow up, seen each other through bike accidents, cancer treatment, job changes, graying. I’d never have met this diverse group of friends if not for our common love of water.

Recently, I learned that my neighbors Eddie and Tina work out at the rec center every morning at 5 a.m. Eddie belongs to a large workout group that includes Mayor Clough. Afterward, they go to Panera Bread for bagels, discuss the mundane, and solve world problems. Unfortunately, the obscene early hour prevented me from doing any actual investigation. They say they love it. I believe them.

Today, half of Americans do not or rarely exercise. CDC states we can prevent 110,000 deaths yearly “if US adults increased moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by even 10 minutes per day.”

To meet that goal, my proposal will cost $2,000 per person per year. But look, according to a 2016 study from Journal of the American Heart Association, exercise can save $500 to $2,500 in healthcare spending per person per year. The more complicated the heart diseases, the greater the saving.

I admit my plan needs work. My kids said that with that rate, they'd happily quit school and "exercise" for a living. But I’m a big-picture kind of leader. Exercise saves lives and money. I’ll let Eddie’s think tank take care the rest.

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 10:19 AM, 03.21.2023