Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Is Exercise the Answer to a Higher Income?

Investing in health to boost our wealth

Recent weeks have seen me feeling overwhelmed by my responsibilities and the ongoing sense that I have too much to do and too little time to do it. Consequently, I have been taking stock of both my life and my budget to see how I can rearrange my schedule to maximize my time and income.

Lately, I have toyed with the idea of cancelling my gym membership. While I’m well aware of the physical and mental health benefits of physical activity, attending the gym can also be time-consuming and arguably less urgent (though perhaps not less important) than other competing demands. It can also be expensive, particularly given the upfront membership and the inevitable days or occasional weeks I’m unable to attend.

However, a recent article published in Social Science and Medicine had me deleting ‘cost’ from my mental list of the pros and cons of attending the gym. Using a large sample of 5042 Finnish twin males, the study aimed to investigate the direct effects of physical activities on long-term labor income and earnings. The results showed that being physically active positively influenced long-term (15 year) income, with physically active males receiving incomes some 14-17% higher than less active males.

The authors argued that exercise may enhance a person’s performance at work by improving their perseverance when facing obstacles, fostering goal-oriented behaviors, and developing social skills. In addition, physical activity may encourage participation in competitive situations within the workplace by enhancing self-esteem, self-confidence and locus of control.

Furthermore, the authors’ were able to control for (and therefore largely discount) other factors that may influence income, such as health, genetic differences, family factors, individual factors (e.g., marital status, education), labor market attachment and related absenteeism, and even physical attractiveness.

More research is needed to understand how these results may be generalized to other countries. Personally, I’d also like to see a study sample that included women to determine whether these findings can be applied to both sexes.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my gym membership has been crucial in encouraging me to exercise. Truth be told, cancelling my membership has been more of a fleeting thought than a serious consideration. There’s no denying I feel both healthier and happier after a workout. While gyms may not be the cheapest means of exercise, it is comforting to learn that investing in my health today may improve my finances tomorrow.


Hyytinen, A., Lahtonen, J. The effect of physical activity on long-term income. Social Science and Medicine. 2013; 96: 129-137.

More from Jacinta Francis Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today