Exercise: The best medicine?
We tend to think of workouts as the way to get in shape and pills as the way to get—or stay—well.
We tend to think of workouts as the way to get in shape and pills as the way to get—or stay—well. But a new study says exercise may be at least as effective as medications in four key medical situations: treating heart disease, treating heart failure, preventing diabetes and aiding recovery from strokes.
Researchers from the London School of Economics, Harvard Medical School and Stanford University School of Medicine analyzed the results of 305 trials and found little difference between exercise and drug interventions in extending life in these four situations. The review, published online in BMJ, involved more than 339,000 people.
Among stroke patients, exercise seemed slightly more effective than drugs; for heart failure, diuretic medications appeared to have a small edge over exercise. But the researchers cautioned that there wasn’t enough data to be sure—partly because exercise tends to be under-studied.
“The current body of medical literature largely constricts clinicians to drug options,” the study authors argued. “This blind spot in available scientific evidence prevents prescribers and their patients from understanding the clinical circumstances where drugs might provide only modest improvement but exercise could yield more profound or sustainable gains in health.”
The takeaway? For many medical conditions, physical activity should be considered as an alternative to, or in combination with, drugs. So if you’re being treated for a medical problem, make sure your doctor knows you’re open to whatever treatment will work—even if it comes on a mat rather than in a handy bottle.