Recent Op-Eds

Let’s Get “PHIT”

By Sen. John Thune

March 24, 2023

With high school and college tournaments in full swing and the spring season just around the corner, March is a great time for sports. Traveling throughout the state, I’ve been able to see student athletes from around South Dakota competing for a title. Whether I’m in Aberdeen or Huron for high school tournaments or in Sioux Falls for the annual Summit League tournament, the competitive spirit of South Dakota is always in full force.

Being back in a high school gym, seeing student athletes play hard and work together for the good of their team, always brings back good memories and makes me reflect on how sports has shaped my life. In addition to important values like teamwork, humility, and service, playing sports taught me the importance of staying active and made me a lifelong fitness enthusiast. Being active is one of the best ways to live a longer and healthier life. Even a modest amount of regular physical activity is associated with longer lifespans, greater physical well-being, and improved mental health. The earlier in life these habits begin, the greater the benefits.

Unfortunately, some of the tools that help people live healthy lives are too costly for some Americans. A gym membership, fitness equipment, and even registration for youth sports leagues can be expensive, making it harder for some families to take full advantage of the health benefits from these activities. I recently reintroduced a bipartisan bill to help alleviate some of these cost constraints. The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act would allow Americans to use a portion of their pre-tax health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) for certain fitness-related expenses.

My bill wouldn’t cover things like a new pair of tennis shoes or fees at a country club, but it would help families find room in their budget for investing in preventive health tools like exercise equipment and a gym membership. It would allow individual taxpayers to use up to $1,000 from their HSA or FSA, or $2,000 for married couples, toward fitness expenses. Being active throughout life is an investment that can result in meaningful, long-term health care savings. And the earlier in life you commit to a healthy lifestyle, the more health care savings there are as you get older.

The PHIT Act would also allow families to use their FSAs to pay for certain youth sports registration fees and the gear their kids need to participate. The typical family pays hundreds of dollars a year for registration fees and equipment. Unsurprisingly, many families say youth sports can be a strain on their budgets. Youth sports is one of the best ways to build lifelong healthy habits as well as build strong friendships and learn important skills and values.

Whether you’re playing with your kids, going to the gym, or getting on a treadmill a few times a week, staying active throughout your life is an important part of staying healthy and preventing the onset of chronic conditions. Making it easier for Americans to invest in tools that make fitness more accessible is a common-sense way to encourage more people to lead longer, healthier, and happier lives by staying active.