Here's how Congress can get people to live healthy lifestyles
© Getty Images

We saw some nice team play and leadership from some standout members of Congress last week.

More than a dozen members from both sides of the aisle came together on March 1 to push forward a bipartisan bill that promises to make a difference in the lives of hard-working Americans who are trying to take ownership of their own health. 

Seeing members from both parties come together on this meaningful legislation was downright uplifting. 

The bill is called the — Personal Health Investment Today Act (PHIT) — and it’s about making it easier for everyday Americans to make the financial choice to stay healthy by being physically active.


Reps. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Ron KindRon KindCongress should prioritize small farmers and taxpayers over Big Ag Why Trump is fighting Canada on softwood lumber and dairy Lawmakers targeted as district politics shift MORE (D-Wis.) introduced PHIT into the House, along with ten co-sponsors — five Republicans and five Democrats. Senators John ThuneJohn ThuneSenate panel unveils aviation bill with consumer protections, drone fix Four Senate conservatives say they oppose ObamaCare repeal bill Live coverage: Senate GOP unveils its ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-S.D.) and Chris MurphyChris MurphyDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Senate panel demands Trump's legal rationale for shooting Syrian jet Dems limited in their ability to slow ObamaCare vote MORE (D-Conn.) took the lead in the Senate, and were joined by Senators Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoSanders tries to sway GOP colleague on Obamacare repeal Sanders: GOP healthcare bill is a 'moral outrage' Opioid crisis threatens GOP ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyLawmakers sport LSU gear at baseball game in honor of Scalise Senate votes to continue arming Saudis As Yemenis suffer the consequences Overnight Defense: Mattis defends Trump budget | Senate rejects effort to block Saudi deal | Boeing to cut 50 executive jobs MORE (D-Ind.).

Our leaders on Capitol Hill who introduced and signed onto the bill recognize how important physical activity is in the fight against preventable chronic diseases and avoidable healthcare spending.

If passed, PHIT (H.R.1267 and S.482) would let Americans use $1,000 pre-tax, and families up to $2,000, from their health savings (HSA) and flexible spending (FSA) accounts for qualified fitness expenses. It would apply to things like kids’ sports team fees, gym memberships, fitness classes, and exercise-specific equipment.

Basically, PHIT would give Americans greater choice in how their pre-tax healthcare dollars are spent, enabling them to save 20 to 30 percent on costs that support the healthy habit of exercise — a key ingredient to disease prevention. For the most part, these tax-free accounts haven’t been set up in the past to cover expenses for exercise — a vital component of lifestyle medicine and one of the very things that keep people well.

I’m hoping to see more members of Congress realize how meaningful this common-sense, common-ground bill could be in the day-to-day lives of their constituents. 

After all, finding the extra dollars to pay for exercise costs can be a disincentive to lead a physically active lifestyle when so much of people’s income is already being eaten up by healthcare expenses. By giving people access to their own HSAs and FSAs for exercise enables them to be proactive in staying well. It makes exercise a much easier financial choice.

Here’s why we want people to choose exercise — and why Congress should support them in that choice by passing PHIT: 

Regular exercise helps keep the most costly chronic diseases at bay.

Being physically active on a regular basis can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, depression, and more. Together, chronic diseases cost America $2 trillion in annual medical spending each year, a sobering projection by the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD) for the years 2016 to 2030.

Exercise fuels the economy.

When we have a healthy, robust workforce, it’s good for business. Exercise is positively tied to worker engagement, energy, focus, mood, and creativity—all good for worker wellbeing and the bottom line. Conversely, when workers don’t exercise, and they engage in unhealthy habits, American businesses suffer in lost productivity due to chronic diseases — an estimated $794 billion each year.

America’s national security is affected by whether or not our pool of recruits exercises.

When we have a young population that isn’t physically fit to serve, our country has a problem — regardless of how big or small the defense budget may be.

Lack of physical fitness and obesity are among several key reasons why more than 70 percent of our young adults would not qualify for service in the military, according to Mission: Readiness, which has done great work to raise awareness of the problem. In fact, obesity disqualifies nearly a third of American youth, 17 to 24 years old, from military service.

PHIT is a great common-sense piece of legislation that can help America and Americans on many fronts. If both sides of the aisle continue to come together on this bill, PHIT should be an easy win for Congress to make a meaningful difference in the lives of everyday Americans — and in the long-term health of our nation.

Now that’s something we can all feel good about. So, Congress, please move quickly. Pass PHIT.

By Helen Durkin, Executive Vice President of Public Policy for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA)

The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.