Study shows health plans benefit from covering gym memberships for seniors
More and more health plans are paying for health club memberships for seniors, and with good reason, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research conducted atBrownUniversity and supported by the National Institute on Aging, shows that more health plans are both promoting health and recruiting healthier members by offering fitness club memberships as a covered benefit.
The study authors used statistical comparisons to evaluate thousands of patients in 22 different Medicare Advantage plans, including 11 plans that included health and fitness club memberships and 11 similar health plans that did not include a membership. They assessed when each member enrolled, when health plans started offering the benefit, and different health opinions and outcomes (as evaluated by a national survey administered in 2006 to 2008). More seniors who belonged to plans that covered gym memberships described themselves as “in excellent or good health” and reported far less physical limitations as compared to their less fit counterparts.
While strict laws prohibit health plans from allowing healthier people to join and turning away people with more serious health conditions, researchers say that offering gym memberships is a smart way to enhance the health of their members and attract healthier people. Promoting healthy lifestyle behavior inevitably leads to significant savings, they conclude.
Cooper and Trivedi. (2012), Fitness memberships and favorable selection in Medicare Advantage plans. New England Journal of Medicine, 366(2), 150-162.
In a previous issue of Health E-Review, we reviewed a study conducted by researchers atKansas CityUniversity, who found that pregnant women who exercised affected the heart rate of their fetuses. Fetal heart rates were decreased, which is a sign of health, and also is similar to the response of adults who are physically fit; these people typically have lower resting heart rates. Therefore, the authors wanted to learn more about the relationship between maternal exercise and fetal heart function.
For this study, researchers studied 50 pregnant women at 36 weeks gestational age. Women were divided into groups and performed exercise at various intensities and durations. Researchers gave women surveys to find out how much they were exercising total and administered various tests to determine fetal heart rate and heart rate variability. The study found that exercise had a significant effect on heart rate and heart rate variability, and that there was a dose dependent response, meaning more exercise resulted in lower heart rate. These results are suggestive that when a pregnant mother exercises, her baby becomes more physically fit.
May, et al. (2011). Regular maternal exercise dose and fetal heart outcome. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, epub.
Exercise and heart disease: An update
New research conducted at UppsalaUniversityin Swedenyielded some new and interesting findings on exercise and heart disease, and has just been published in the online version of the European Heart Journal. Though countless studies have shown that physical activity decreases risk of cardiovascular disease, these previous studies have mainly been conducted in developed countries. Authors of the new research wanted to evaluate different socio-economic populations in less developed countries, and compare occupational vs. leisure-time physical activity. They also wanted to test the hypothesis that owning certain goods may be associated with heart disease.
Researchers evaluated nearly 25,000 people for this study: 10,043 cases of first-occurring heart attacks and 14,217 patients who had no previous symptoms or heart disease completed a questionnaire on their work-related and leisure-time exercise. The research was conducted in 262 medical centers within 52 countries across the world: inAsia,Europe, theMiddle East,Africa,Australia, and North andSouth America. As might be expected, the study found that moderate leisure-time and occupational physical activity were both associated with a significantly reduced risk of heart disease. Interestingly, ownership of a television or a car increased the risk of having a heart attack; researchers attribute this finding to the fact that these items lend themselves to sedentary behaviors (i.e., watching TV and driving).
Held, et al (2012). Physical activity levels, ownership of goods promoting sedentary behaviour and risk of myocardial infarction: results of the INTERHEART study. European Heart Journal, epub.
Childhood physical activity is important because many studies show that the amount of activity that children engage in is an accurate predictor for whether they will exercise as adults. However, until now, very few studies have separated measures of organized activities from free time activities, and no studies have evaluated these changes in physical activity in children below the age of 18. However, researchers from theNationalCenterfor Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion along with researchers from the Emory School of Public Health sought to do just that.
Researchers studied a nationally representative sample of 1,623 children ages 9-13 in 2002, and followed them for five years. These children were participants of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Media Campaign Longitudinal Survey, which was conducted from 2002 to 2006. They completed a survey on their frequency of participation in free-time and organized physical activities outside school. Children were instructed to include activities such as sports, lessons, or playing actively with their friends. The analysis of the study data revealed that both organized and free time physical activity decline from the age of 9 until the age of 13. It’s still not clear how early the decline starts, however.
Wall, et al. (2011). Trends by age in youth physical activity: Youth Media Campaign longitudinal survey. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(11), 2140-2147.