We could add R7 billion to the economy if South Africans get fitter: Discovery

Discovery Vitality and RAND Europe have released a new study focusing on the economic impact of physical inactivity.

The 23-country study assessed how different physical activity improvement scenarios may affect the economy of countries up to 2050.

The economic improvement arises from lower mortality rates (more people alive and contributing to the economy), reduced absenteeism, and lower presenteeism driven by the impact of physical activity on mental health.

The study used Vitality’s extensive proprietary dataset on workplace health, derived from its Healthiest Workplace initiative in seven countries, to assess the relationship between physical activity and performance at work.

It also combined the mortality and productivity effects into a single model to project the true economic cost of physical inactivity over time.

The resulting data shows that if the world’s inactive population walked around 20 minutes a day, the world economy would gain $220 billion annually, an individual would add 2.5 years to their life, and business would gain 5 additional productive days a year, Discovery said.

It added that similar gains would be seen in the local economy if South Africans became more active and healthier.

“If South Africa succeeds in getting 20% of adults 20% more active over the next 30 years, the average GDP will increase by USD $500 million (R7 billion),” it said.

“If all inactive people reach the minimum WHO physical activity levels, GDP will increase by between USD$1.6 and USD$2.1 billion (R24 billion and R31 billion).”

Other findings

“Physical inactivity, and the devastating impact it has on people’s quality of life, mortality and morbidity, is one of the key public health challenges we face, said Dinesh Govender, Discovery Vitality chief executive.

“Considering that 28% of the global population are not physically active enough – 38% in South Africa – Vitality’s commitment to get people moving is more relevant than ever.

Govender said that the study provides proof of the relationship between exercise, productivity, mortality and economic growth.

He highlighted some of the other major findings from the study below:

  • If the physically inactive were to reach the World Health Organisation’s recommended levels of exercise, employees would gain up to five additional days of productive time each year, and the global economy would grow by an estimated $220 billion every year;
  • Life expectancy could increase by at least 2.5 years, on average, for a person aged 40 years in this scenario;
  • In addition to getting inactive people active, if those currently active increased their physical activity levels by 20%, the global economy could grow by in excess of $360 billion every year; equivalent to the size of Singapore’s economy. Economic gains for the US economy would $95 billion (£73 billion) a year until 2050, and $11 billion (£8.5 billion) a year for the UK economy, in this scenario;
  • Economic gains can be attributed to the reduction of premature deaths in the working-age population, improving rates of sick leave and improved levels of workplace productivity associated with regular exercise.

Read: Discovery is phasing out Vitality reward points – here’s how the new system will work

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We could add R7 billion to the economy if South Africans get fitter: Discovery