To test their hypothesis, the researchers outlined three main scenarios. In the first scenario, the physical activity of some inactive or low-active adults in a population would increase to at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity every single week.
In the second scenario, the physical activity level of currently active adults would be improved by 20%. This scenario assumes that the activity levels of those not participating in any physical activity remain unchanged.
The third and final scenario assumes that adults in a population that do less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity every week begin completing 75 or 150 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity, respectively. Meanwhile, those that are already at 75 or 150 minutes of physical activity a week increase their activity by 20%.
The study, which was based on a statistical modeling, found that under the first scenario, the 2050 global GDP could increase between by $314 billion and $446 billion. Under the second scenario, the GDP increases would be even greater: between $524 billion and $760 billion by 2050. In the final scenario, the US economy (followed by those of China, Germany and the UK) would experience the largest boost: US GDP would increase by $138 to $200 billion by 2050. It is unclear why the study did not provide a global increase in GDP for the third scenario, like it did for the first two.
Increased physical activity among populations is linked to GDP growth because the longer people remain healthy, the longer they can contribute to the workforce.
“The findings suggest that billions of dollars in global health care could be saved by improving physical activity rates,” the study explains, also noting that increased physical activity reduces presenteeism, which the report defines as “when people are at work but are not able to function to the best of their ability.” Reducing presenteeism, the study notes, “is responsible for about 70% of the economic GDP gains” the model predicts, indicating a “significant relationship between inactivity and productivity loss.”
However, the report also notes that there are many “significant barriers” to improving levels of physical activity among the population. The researchers nonetheless recommend increasing access to programs that encourage physical activity.