Background: Although exercise training improves cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, few studies have evaluated its potential long-term cost-effectiveness.
Methods: Using the Cardiovascular Disease Life Expectancy Model, a validated disease simulation model, we calculated the life expectancy of average 35- to 74-year-old Canadians found in the 1992 Canadian Heart Health Survey. The impacts of exercise training on cardiovascular risk factors were estimated as a 4% decrease in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, a 5% increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and a 6 mm Hg decrease in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Exercise adherence was estimated at 50% for the first year and 30% for all additional years. Costs for a supervised exercise program determined from Canadian sources and converted to US dollars were estimated at $605 for the first year (medical evaluation, stress test, exercise prescription, and program costs) and $367 for all additional years (program costs). For an unsupervised program, the costs were estimated at $311 for the first year and $73 for all additional years.
Results: The cost-effectiveness (CE) of an unsupervised exercise program (1996 U.S. dollars) was less than $12,000 per year of life saved (YOLS) for all individuals. The CE of a supervised exercise program was less than $15,000/YOLS for men with CVD, and between $12,000 and $43,000 for women with CVD and men without CVD.
Conclusions: Given the relatively few risks, substantial long-term benefits, and modest costs, an unsupervised exercise training program represents good value for all. A more expensive supervised exercise program is also cost-effective for most individuals with CVD.