Value of High-Intensity Exercise

As part of my never-ending quest to value everything, I have attempted to value exercise – not just any exercise, though. I’m talking rigorous, consistent, intense exercise.  The kind of exercise that “gym rats” do – once a day, maybe twice a day. Value of High Intensity Exercise.

I’m talking a combination of metabolic conditioning1 and weight training.   I’m not talking about walking the dog or even walking fast.   I’m not talking about light weights either.   I’m talking about getting the heart rate up to 80%, maybe 90% of maximum levels during interval training, and weight training to the point where your muscles fail with 6 to 12 reps at, say, 80% of your max one-rep weight.   I’m talking about averaging at least an hour a day, for at least 300 days a year, for the rest of your life!

I’m neither a doctor nor a trainer, but I am a valuation expert and a gym rat.  I’ve read numerous books and articles about the benefits of rigorous exercise and I have practiced what they preach (more so in the last couple of years).  I’m on a bike almost every morning between 30 and 60 minutes, sometimes cruising at 120 beats per minute (BPM), sometimes doing intervals reaching 150 BPM (my theoretical max is 160 at age 60 but my real max is probably 170).2  I’m also in the gym 5 to 6 days per week lifting heavy weights (e.g., benching 125% of my body weight for ten reps).

Relative Health and High-Intensity Exercise

My analysis begins with a 50-year-old male.   This individual currently has a certain level of health.  I measured the individual’s health going forward relative to the individual’s current level of health.  I refer to this as the individual’s relative health.

Now, let’s presume that the individual can choose to either: 1) lead a sedentary lifestyle for the rest of his life, or 2) lead an active lifestyle where he engages in the type of high-intensity exercise that I have described above.  If the individual chooses to lead a sedentary lifestyle, then his health will decline more rapidly, and he will have a lower life expectancy.  The graph below illustrates the expected relative health of our individual for the two life paths.

Value of High Intensity Exercise

Without getting into the biology of why both high-intensity metabolic conditioning and weight training are so important and why the combination improves relative health and life expectancy, I have developed a simple model of the “economic” value of high-intensity exercise.3

The Components of Value for High-Intensity Exercise

There are two components of value to almost everything – the monetary component and the psychological component.  The monetary component refers to the value that results from changes in an individual’s cash flow as a result of high-intensity exercise, while the psychological component refers to the value gained from non-monetary changes, such as improved self-image.  You may ask, how do you place a value on non-monetary changes?  Well, I discuss that in more detail below.

Monetary Benefits of High-Intensity Exercise

I identify and model four monetary benefits and costs of high-intensity exercise:

  1. Improved earnings – Various studies (as well as common sense) suggest that fit people earn more. One such study suggests about 9% more.
  2. Longer work life – Of course, if you’re fit and healthy, you can have a longer work life (i.e., a longer period of earnings). Therefore, my model assumes you retire at 70 instead of 65.
  3. Lower health care costs – Also, your health care costs will be less. My research suggests that a 50% savings over an average normal cost of $2,000 per year is reasonable (but that savings increases in real terms as we age).
  4. Cost of working out – To be fair, I need to subtract the cost of working out (e.g., a fitness club, maybe a trainer too).

Assuming wage growth

Assuming wage growth equals inflation and is offset by the time value of money, the monetary value of a commitment to this type of exercise for our 50-year-old man making $100,000 annually is about $580,000 in present value terms.  Now admittedly, I’m also making a few other assumptions, namely, there is no opportunity cost to exercise, you would be doing something unproductive with the time, exercise increases your productivity generally, exercise is enjoyable, and/or some combination of all of that.

The graph below shows the value and contribution of each of the monetary components.  Improved earnings contribute 19%, or $144,000, of the value from monetary benefits.  The longer work life is the largest monetary benefit, contributing 69%, or $510,000, to the total value from monetary benefits.  The monetary benefit of lower health care costs was a nominal 1%, or $6,000, of the total value from monetary benefits, although this is dependent on the individual’s starting level of health.4  The cost of working out is approximately $82,000 for the individual’s life and reduces the value from monetary benefits by 11%.  The total monetary value of high-intensity exercise is therefore $578,000.

Value of High Intensity Exercise

Psychological Benefits of High-Intensity Exercise

The second, and perhaps the more interesting component to ponder, is the psychological component to the value of high-intensity exercise.  I identify three primary psychological benefits of high-intensity exercise:

  1. A healthier life – As a proxy for the value of a healthier life, one can conduct a survey to determine the wage sacrifice an individual would be willing to accept for a healthier life. I assume 10% of wages based on an informal poll I conducted.  Further, I assume that the psychological benefits of a healthier life increase as you age, quantified by the difference in the two relative health decay curves (see graph above).
  2. A longer life – From the actuarial tables and various studies, I assigned an increased life span of 12 years to the man doing this for the next 40 years (living to about 90 (a “gym rat” for life) versus 78 (relatively sedentary)).5  But what’s that worth?   That’s a tough one, but there is a field of damages called hedonic damages that attempts to value pre-mature death.  For purposes of this blog, I will assume the value of each extended year is the same as his real wages.
  3. An improved self-image – And what about self-image?  Here I look at the cost of cosmetic synergy as a proxy and get a result of about $2,500 per year.   While the self-image gap grows over time between decay and “growth” (see relative health graph above), I will assume that self-image is worth less as you age such that they offset, and the value of self-image is therefore constant over time.

What does this all add up to?  About $1.7 million.  The graph below shows the value and contribution of each of the psychological components.  A healthier life is worth about $371,000 and contributes 22% to the psychological value.  An additional 12 years of life is worth $1,200,000 and contributes 72% of the psychological value.  Improved self-image is worth $103,000 and contributes 6% of the total psychological value.

Value of High Intensity Exercise

Total Value of High-Intensity Exercise

The total economic value of high-intensity exercise is about $2.25 million, which consists of $578,000 from monetary components and $1,674,000 from psychological components.

Value of High Intensity Exercise

Modeling Details

For those modeling geeks who are interested, this section covers the details of the model.  For everyone else, you can skip this section and proceed to the concluding thoughts.

The primary assumptions of the model are captured in the table below.

Model Assumptions

Value of High Intensity Exercise

The table below contains the estimated benefits for the monetary components based on the above assumptions.  Health care costs turn negative in the model at age 79 due to the longer life expectancy under the high-intensity exercise case.  There are no expected health care costs at age 79 and beyond under the sedentary case because the individual is expected to be dead (statistically speaking).

Value of High Intensity Exercise

The table below contains the estimated benefits for the psychological components based on the above assumptions.  The estimated value of a healthier life is estimated as 10% of the individual’s annual salary multiplied by one plus the difference in relative health.  For example, at age 60, the individual’s relative health is 100% under high-intensity exercise and 88% under sedentary.  The value of a healthier life would be $11,200 (= $100,000 × 10% × (1+100%-88%)).

Value of High Intensity Exercise

Concluding Thoughts

One way to think of this is if you’re about 50 and your net worth is $2.25 million, you would double it by committing to a rigorous metabolic conditioning and weight training exercise program.  Seems like a good investment, monetarily and psychologically.


  1. I use the term metabolic conditioning to refer to both aerobic and anaerobic exercises designed to stimulate and train the circulatory, respiratory, and energy production systems of the body.
  2. Interestingly, you can get similar results from some hobbies – but they have to be the right ones: mountain biking and cross country skiing to name a couple. In my case, I’m the drummer of a rock band and trust me, it works.
  3. I’m not qualified to opine on the physiological effects of high-intensity exercise. If you are interested, please see, for example, the book titled Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D.
  4. A significant reason the total benefit of lower health care costs is so minor is that you will, of course, incur additional health care costs because you are living much longer.
  5. The average actuarial life is 81.

Tags: Value of High Intensity Exercise, High Intensity Exercise, Intensity Exercise Benefits, Monetarily Benefits of Intensity Exercise, Psychologically Benefits of Intensity Exercise

Marty Hanan is the founder and President of ValueScope, Inc., a valuation and financial advisory firm that specializes in valuing assets and businesses and in helping business owners in business transactions and estate planning.   Mr. Hanan is a Chartered Financial Analyst and has a B.S. Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago.

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