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Oct 18, 2013

Exercise as Effective as Medications for Heart Disease and Diabetes

Forget the pills. Study finds exercise helps treat and prevent chronic disease as well as medicine.

We know that staying active promotes better health, but could it actually help treat and prevent chronic disease? According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, exercise works just as well as medicine in the treatment and prevention of heart disease and diabetes.

Researchers from the London School of Economics, Harvard Medical School and Stanford University School of Medicine pooled results from 305 trials comparing the effect of medicine vs. exercise on chronic disease. These studies encompassed nearly 340,000 patients and looked at specific outcomes: heart disease, recovery from stroke, heart failure treatment, and diabetes prevention.

After analyzing the data, researchers found that there was no significant difference between exercise and medicine as a way to treat or prevent the above conditions. Exercise worked just as well as drugs as a treatment option, especially for stroke patients. The only exception was heart failure, most likely because this condition can limit one’s ability to exercise.

Findings from this study should give us all food for thought, as drugs are often the go-to treatment for health conditions. Sure, healthy lifestyle choices are always recommended for the prevention and treatment of heart disease, but pills are usually a quicker fix. Plus, we know much more about the effect of medications on health conditions, since they’re researched extensively.

To address this issue, experts suggest that more research is needed on the effect of exercise on chronic disease, like heart disease and diabetes. The more we understand about the impact of exercise on outcomes, the more able we are to compare treatment options and make informed decisions about our healthcare. And it’s possible that for heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases, exercise may be our best weapon in both treating and preventing these conditions.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How does physical activity improve heart health?

  • Physical activity promotes many health benefits, such as weight control, blood pressure reduction and stress reduction. Together, these health benefits translate to improved cardiovascular health.
  • How much exercise do I need?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.


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