Exercise Better Than Drugs for Common Diseases

We all know regular exercise is critical for health, but new research shows it is actually as effective as drugs for several common diseases.

In a study published in the British Medical Journal, physical activity was as effective as pharmaceuticals in the prevention of diabetes and coronary heart disease, and more effective for stroke rehabilitation. Researchers suggested exercise "should be considered as a viable alternative to, or alongside drug therapy."

Drug companies are required to test the safety and effectiveness of their products prior to putting them on the market, but few companies compare the effectiveness of drugs to exercise. Researchers recommended that more drugs be tested alongside exercise therapies.

"In cases where drug options provide only modest benefit, patients deserve to understand the relative impact that physical activity might have on their condition," concluded Huseyin Naci, of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and co-author John Ioannidis of Standford University.

An estimated 80% Americans fail to meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity, according to recent research. Meanwhile, spending on prescription drugs more than doubled between 1999 and 2008.

Naci and Ioannidis conducted the first-ever study on the comparable mortality benefits of exercise and drugs for diabetes, secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, stroke rehabilitation, and treatment of heart failure. (The term secondary prevention is used to describe treating a patient with an existing disease to prevent substantial illness). Their study included a meta-analysis of 305 randomized, controlled trials involving 339, 374 participants.

Heart failure was the only condition that benefited more from drugs (diuretics). For diabetes and secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, exercise was as effective as pharmaceuticals, and for stroke rehabilitation it was more effective.

Getting up to move won't just reduce your risk of these common diseases, it will also help to reduce chronic pain. In fact, studies show exercise is just as effective as drugs for knee osteoarthritis and migraine.


Products- Data Briefs- Number 42-September 2010. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db42.htm#ref1. Accessed October 9,2013.

Naci H, et al. Comparative effectiveness of exercise and drug interventions on mortality outcomes: metaepidemiological study. BMJ 2013; 347:f5577.

Exercise as effective as drugs for common disease. Medical News Today. October 3, 2013. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266841.php.Accessed October 9, 2013.