Medical expenses for health plan members who qualified for fitness center incentive payments were 33% lower than expenses for comparable plan members who received no such incentives.

Researchers at Medica Insurance Company, Minnetonka, Minn., and Life Time Fitness Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn., have reported those findings in a summary of results from a recent study of the effects of exercise on health insurance claims.

The researchers analyzed claims for 3,249 participants in Medica’s Fit Choices program, which offers a $20 monthly credit toward the payment of members’ dues for members who exercise at a fitness center at least 8 days per month.

The researchers created a control group consisting of members with similar demographics, health status, and health care consumption habits.

After 2 years, the average claim cost for the recipients of the exercise incentives was about 34% lower than the average for members for the control group, the researchers report.

Prescription drug claims for the recipients of the exercise incentives were 9.2%, physician claims were 13% lower, and facility claims were 64% lower, the researchers report.

Control group members were about twice as likely to visit the emergency room, the researchers report.