Organizational Wellness

How To Lower Corporate Healthcare Costs By Boosting The Physical Activity Of Employees

Nov 16, 2023
Last Updated May 22, 2024

If you think paying for an employee’s gym membership is expensive, try paying for the health issues that come from employee inactivity. 

Here’s the thing: You probably are. Four out of five U.S. employees have a sedentary job, and lack of movement is associated with a slew of expensive health conditions. People with inactive lifestyles have higher rates of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. When employees have these illnesses, it often translates into higher healthcare costs for employers.

Given how common these conditions are, it’s easy to feel like paying for the products of a sedentary lifestyles is just the cost of doing business.

But that’s not the case. It’s possible to decrease the cost of these conditions by helping your employees get up and move. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — investing in employee wellbeing can help you to reduce healthcare costs in the long run.

Here’s how improving health with physical activity can save your organization money, and what to look for when selecting an effective physical wellbeing program. 


The High Cost of Employee Inactivity

Health conditions linked to inactivity drive  $1 out of every $10 spent on healthcare in the U.S. This is a sizable contributor to the quickly increasing healthcare costs employers are struggling to weather

And, unfortunately for everyone, a sedate lifestyle is only becoming more common. 

Physical activity took a nosedive during pandemic lockdowns, and research shows people have not recovered their pre-pandemic activity levels. (Which were already dangerously low.)

The University of Chicago researchers who compared global step count data from before the pandemic and after lockdowns ended found that “the world continues to take less steps per day, even though lockdowns and social distancing have not been a part of daily life for some time.”

This trend has expensive implications for employers. Workers with a sedentary lifestyle incur, on average, $1,313 more in annual healthcare expenses than active employees. 

Fortunately, even light activity can reduce these costs. Employees who engage in at least some activity (more than 150 minutes a week) see $737 in savings every year, compared to their sedentary colleagues.

What is an Employee Physical Wellness Program?

An employee physical wellbeing program can help companies reverse this damaging trend.

These initiatives aim to improve physical health through increasing activity levels. The goal of such programs is to reduce the incidence of diseases associated with physical inactivity, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and other chronic conditions. 

Through these initiatives, organizations can access a host of benefits. They can help reduce the incidence of these diseases and reduce healthcare spending. At the same time, improving workforce health can cut absenteeism and presenteeism, all while improving employee morale

All of these benefits are why 9 out of 10 companies with a wellbeing program see a positive return on investment. Wellhub clients, for example, see healthcare costs drop by up to 35% in under a year for employees that participate in at least  five activities a month.

How Employee Exercise Can Reduce Your Healthcare Spending

Consistent exercise reduces healthcare expenses over time. People who workout four to seven hours a week between the ages of 40 and 60, for example, incur annual medical bill later in life that are nearly $1,600 less than inactive adults every year. 

But your employees don't have to get to the gym every day to see savings: Even working out one to three hours a week can reduce healthcare expenses by almost $1,400 a year.

Unfortunately, few employers are taking advantage of the power of exercise. Three out of four workers say their job makes it difficult to exercise, creating a company culture that actually drives up its healthcare costs.

If you instead build a work culture that gives people the tools they needstay active, you can help fight the prevalence of diseases in your workforce.

How Physical Activity Combats Major Health Issues 

Heart Disease

Heart disease — one of the most common chronic diseases in America – costs employers $216 billion annually. Fortunately, it can be prevented or made less severe with exercise. Aerobic activity like running or cycling can reduce the chance of experiencing cardiovascular issues, as can weight lifting: Lifting weights twice a week for an hour total cuts the risk of having a heart attack or stroke in half. And, while prevention is always the best option, research shows walking and strength training can help repair damage in adults already experiencing heart issues.


Research estimates about 5% of the more than 30 million cases of Type 2 diabetes in America could be prevented by exercise. Developing moderate muscle strength alone can reduce the chance of developing diabetes by 32%

Workplace wellness interventions have been shown to effectively reduce the likelihood of employees developing the disease. Results of one corporate diabetes prevention program — which included increasing physical activity levels to 150 minutes a week — reduced the development of type 2 diabetes by 58% in under three years.

Anxiety & Depression

Mental and physical wellness are closely related. Reducing stress and improving mental health are now the most common reasons people work out, and research shows this can be an effective strategy. Resistance training can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, and it’s estimated that 8% of all cases of depression could be prevented through increased activity

More than 7% of the workforce in any one year is suffering from depression, driving $134 billion in healthcare spending. Preventing that 8% of exercise-related depression with activity would translate into $10.72 billion in reduced healthcare spending every year. 


Studies consistently find that people with obesity have higher healthcare costs than those without obesity. On average, morbidly obese employees cost twice as much as employees with a normal BMI ($8,067 vs $3,830 annually) thanks to increased direct medical costs, short-term disability, workers compensation claims, and sick day utilization. Cardio exercises and resistance workouts that include cardio are among the most effective workout regimens for weight loss

Key Elements of an Effective Physical Activity for Employees 

Not all wellness programs are equal. To find an initiative that will truly get your employees up and moving, look for one that blends several of the following features.

On-Demand and In-Person Classes

There’s no one-size-fits-all fitness plan. Your workforce is a mix of diverse people with a wide range of exercise preferences — and those preferences can change day-to-day. The same Account Executive may want to do a Yogaia session at home after an in-office day, and then crave getting out of the house for a [solidcore] class after two days of working from home. A program that includes access to both fitness facilities and online classes helps employees get up and move however works for them, whenever works for them.  

Fitness Challenges

Hosting group fitness challenges can be a fun way to encourage people to take part in a wellbeing program. Whether it’s a steps competition or you challenge employees to work out a certain number of times in a week, a little rivalry can get people moving. (Such events can also be a great opportunity to get photos of group activities that build your employer brand as a caring organization on social media.)

Personal Trainers

Personal trainers can help your employees make informed exercise goals, and stick to them. Virtual programs, like Traniac by Wellhub, are a simple and affordable way to scale the offering. Trainers also provide the added benefit of being able to create a tailored exercise regimen customized to an employee’s needs and health history. Research also shows that working with a trainer can improve a person’s opinion of working out, making it easier to stick with an exercise routine over time.

Health and Fitness Apps

It will likely come as no surprise to hear health and fitness apps have grown increasingly popular in recent years. They’re so popular, in fact, that more than a third of people in the U.S. use fitness apps daily

There are several kinds of fitness apps, including: personal trainer apps, activity logbooks, habit trackers, and goal trackers. Incorporating these tools into your wellbeing program can be particularly useful for organizations with distributed workforces, as they are equally accessible to employees in different regions of the country.

Social Elements

Working out is good — but working out with other people is even better. People running with others, for example, report higher enjoyment and faster times (without feeling like they put in more work) than those who jog alone. This effect can be seen even in remote workout environments. Studies show that including social elements in a fitness app can make it more likely that people make using it part of their daily routine. Planning group workouts — in-person or over Zoom — let you leverage this insight to increase engagement in your program. And, like a personal trainer, this provides your employees with a accountability partners that can help them reach their goals.


If there’s one word to characterize this entire list of desirable features, it’s variety. Having a wide mix of offerings makes your wellness program more holistic and inclusive. Since everyone has different needs, offering a buffet of exercise options makes it easier for all of your employees to engage.

Cut Your Healthcare Costs By a Third with Wellhub

Your employees can access thousands of fitness providers with Wellhub. Our simple subscription includes on demand and in-person classes across dozens of activities. However they want to move — Yoga, HITT, running, boxing, cycling, and more — they can do it through our single monthly subscription.

All this movement has an impact: Active Wellhub users reduce their healthcare spending by up to 35% in a single year.

Ready to start saving? Speak with a Wellbeing Specialist today.

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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