Exercise is as good as medication

Exercise is as good as medication

A new report suggests there’s never been a better reason to start going to the gym and increasing your level of exercise.

Taking up more physical activity can be just as good as prescribed medicines for people suffering from conditions like heart disease.

A study in the British Medical Journal looked across hundreds of medical trials involving almost 340,000 patients to show that exercise can rival some of the heart drugs, and even outperform medicines for stroke.

The report says that despite the recent drive to encourage the uptake of physical activity to ward off conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, still only 14 per cent of adults exercise regularly.

In contrast, the rate of prescription drugs being taken continues to rise sharply – averaging 17.7 prescriptions for every person in 2010, compared to 11.2 in 2000.

The researchers suggest that their findings support the idea of adding exercise to prescriptions, and rather than ditching the drugs completely, patients should use them in tandem.

The reality is that only a third of people in England do the minimum Government recommended 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity activity. This could include cycling, swimming, or brisk walking.

With a need for convenience and quick fixes, all too often people are relying on pills to give them what they lack in their diets, through vitamins and minerals, and when it comes to having a medical issue, it seems that many would rather take the prescribed drugs than try and combat the issue with sensible eating and exercise.

For the BMJ research, scientists at the London School of Economics, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute at Harvard Medical School, and Stanford University School of Medicine went through medical documentation with a fine tooth comb for research comparing exercise with pills.

Trials they identified including those looking at managing conditions such as stroke, heart failure, diabetes and existing heart disease. In total they had 305 trials to include in their analysis.

Looking at all the data together the discovered that prescription drugs and exercise were comparable in terms of death rates.

The exceptions to the rule were diuretics, which are drugs for heart failure patients, which proved better than exercise in this case. And for stroke patients, exercise outperformed drugs in terms of life expectancy.

The health benefits of taking regular exercise have long been documented and promoted. This study further cements the idea that people should be doing far more exercise to secure a healthy future and lessen the need for drugs and medical intervention. Exercise can reduce the risk of illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke by up to 50 per cent and lower the risk of early death by up to 30 per cent.

It has shown to help with depression and mental health issues, as well as boost self esteem and confidence levels.

In response to the findings Dr Peter Coleman, Deputy Director of Research at the Stroke Association said:

“We know that exercise, as well as intensive physiotherapy, can have a vital role in helping patients recover after a stroke. Moderate physical activity for example can reduce the risk of stroke by up to 27 per cent.  However, exercise alone should not be considered an alternative for patients taking prescribed medication, as advised by their GP.

“This study suggests that exercise could be beneficial in increasing life expectancy compared to blood-thinning drugs. We would like to see more research into the long-term benefits of exercise for stroke patients.

“By taking important steps, such as regular exercise, eating a balanced diet and stopping smoking, people can significantly reduce their risk of stroke.”

The BMJ report said that exercise and many drug interventions were potentially similar in terms of their mortality benefits, with exercise interventions being considered as a viable alternative to, or alongside drug therapy. It reads: “According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one third of clinicians prescribe exercise in primary care.  However, as previous systematic reviews have shown, there is considerable uncertainty as to the effectiveness of primary care interventions for increasing physical activity.  As previously recommended, primary care doctors should give brief advice to most patients about the benefits of exercise and refer patients with chronic disease to a rehabilitation programme that includes an exercise intervention.”

So rather than waiting for the doctor to prescribe exercise, know that regular trips to the gym, brisk walks and bike rides will all help to keep some of the most serious diseases at bay, and will hopefully work with prescribed drugs to help patients of heart diseases and other illnesses make a quicker recovery.

We know how important a healthy lifestyle is and this new research makes an even stronger case for the benefits of working out.


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