Now that it's down 14% from a highwater mark it set way back in 2021, a strong recovery for the S&P 500 could be in the cards for later this spring. Then again, the next big market recovery might not get started until 2024 or even later.

Nobody can predict when the market will reach its next major upswing, but investors who buy the benchmark index's top stocks when they're trading at depressed prices could realize market-beating gains once market conditions improve.

These three members of the S&P 500 index are down near 52-week lows, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the success of their underlying businesses. Here's how buying these stocks now, at their relatively depressed prices, could lead to market-beating gains for patient investors.

CVS Health

Just about every American knows where to find at least one of CVS Health's (CVS -0.57%) retail pharmacies. What most of us don't realize, though, is that retail sales are a relatively minor part of this healthcare conglomerate's overall operation. 

In 2018, CVS Health acquired Aetna, a major health insurance benefits manager that collected $85.3 billion worth of insurance premiums last year. The company's transition away from retail and toward the management of health benefits began in 2006, with the acquisition of a pharmacy benefits management business that is now the country's largest, with more than 110 million plan members.

Managing health insurance benefits is a more lucrative endeavor when you also provide those benefits. To get a better handle on outgoing expenses, CVS Health recently acquired Signify Health and its network of more than 10,000 clinicians.

Now that it's sitting near a 52-week low, CVS Health stock offers an above-average 3.3% dividend yield. It's also trading at the low multiple of just 8.4 times forward-looking earnings expectations. At this price, long-term investors can come out way ahead over the long run even if earnings stagnate.

Johnson & Johnson

By market cap, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ -0.47%) is the world's largest healthcare business, but probably not for much longer. This year, J&J intends to spin off its consumer segment into a separate company, to be named Kenvue.

Once the planned spinoff is complete, the J&J that remains will be focused entirely on medical technology and pharmaceuticals. This is good news for investors, because sales from these segments have grown at a much faster pace than the consumer business. Plus, drugs and medical devices produce much wider profit margins than Listerine and Band-Aids do.

At recent prices, you can scoop up shares of J&J for just 14.75 times forward-looking earnings estimates. Investors who buy the stock at this modest multiple will come out way ahead over the long run, as long as J&J and Kenvue continue growing at a low- to mid-single-digit percentage.

Holding on to this stock for at least another decade should be a breeze even if it unexpectedly tanks in the near term. The stock offers a 2.9% dividend yield, and the company has raised that payout for 60 consecutive years. In 2024, shareholders will most likely receive a slightly larger amount from two stocks instead of one.

Medtronic

Medtronic (MDT -2.13%) is the world's largest manufacturer of medical devices. Aging populations in developed countries all over the world will provide steadily increasing demand for its devices, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the company's stock price. It's down around 40% from the peak it reached back in 2021.

At recent prices, Medtronic shares offer a 3.3% dividend yield, and its dividend program is legendary. In March, the company raised its payout for the 45th year in a row.  

An extensive product lineup that includes run-of-the-mill items you can find in any hospital room give Medtronic the steady cash flows a company needs to maintain its dividend commitment. Next-generation devices, such as its robot-assisted surgical system, could help the company continue its dividend growth streak for decades to come. 

Despite a dependable dividend and a leading position in multiple medical device niches, Medtronic stock is trading for just 15.3 times forward-looking earnings estimates. Buying now and holding over the long run gives you an excellent chance to come out ahead over the long run.