Exercise 'can be as good as pills'

Man preparing to jog Short, regular bouts of exercise could add years to your life, say experts

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Exercise can be as good a medicine as pills for people with conditions such as heart disease, a study has found.

The work in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) looked at hundreds of trials involving nearly 340,000 patients to assess the merits of exercise and drugs in preventing death.

Physical activity rivalled some heart drugs and outperformed stroke medicine.

The findings suggest exercise should be added to prescriptions, say the researchers.

Experts stressed that patients should not ditch their drugs for exercise - rather, they should use both in tandem.

Prescriptions rise

Too few adults currently get enough exercise. Only a third of people in England do the recommended 2.5 hours or more of moderate-intensity activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week.

In contrast, prescription drug rates continue to rise.

There were an average of 17.7 prescriptions for every person in England in 2010, compared with 11.2 in 2000.

For the study, scientists based at the London School of Economics, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute at Harvard Medical School and Stanford University School of Medicine trawled medical literature to find any research that compared exercise with pills as a therapy.

They identified 305 trials to include in their analysis. These trials looked at managing conditions such as existing heart disease, stroke rehabilitation, heart failure and pre-diabetes.

When they studied the data as a whole, they found exercise and drugs were comparable in terms of death rates.

But there were two exceptions.

Drugs called diuretics were the clear winner for heart failure patients, while exercise was best for stroke patients in terms of life expectancy.

Health benefits

Doing exercise regularly:

  • Can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer by up to 50%
  • Can lower your risk of early death by up to 30%
  • Can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy as well as keep weight off
  • Moderate activity, such as cycling or fast walking, gives your heart and lungs a work-out

Source: NHS Choices

Amy Thompson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said that although an active lifestyle brings many health benefits, there is not enough evidence to draw any firm conclusions about the merit of exercise above and beyond drugs.

"Medicines are an extremely important part of the treatment of many heart conditions and people on prescribed drugs should keep taking their vital meds. If you have a heart condition or have been told you're at high risk of heart disease, talk to your doctor about the role that exercise can play in your treatment."

Dr Peter Coleman of the Stroke Association said exercise alongside drugs had a vital role that merited more research.

"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."

"Moderate physical activity, for example, can reduce the risk of stroke by up to 27%."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Chances are many people who have had a stroke will find themselves out of work, and on benefits IF you claim they ONLY pay half price to use a gym, that is a good thing
    and exercise doesn't strictly mean join a gym, just being more physically active

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Bill: "What is Parkrun?"

    If only there was some way of finding these things out..

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.


    So cut out all enjoyable food, give up the joy of driving and the glory of soft drinks and I'll live an extra incredibly boring year or two.

    Or I can eat a curry every other day, drink whatever I like, and die at fifty still happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Since most of the premature health issues concern over eating and under exercising this is not a big surprise. The question is why do we find exercise so difficult to do? and why do we find it so difficult to eat a balanced diet? and what are we to do about it?

    Compulsory exercise classes?
    Compulsory diets?

    In reality the above would be more expensive than drugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    If you can't convince your average Brit to exercise when he/she is healthy then you will have no chance convincing them when they are ill.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Exercise is energising and invigorating, and makes your aches and pains fall away. You have to have the internal self-discipline to prioritise this activity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    "Short, regular bouts of exercise could add years to your life, say experts"

    Who are these so "experts"? Notice use of the word "could". ie it might - but then again - it might not. What a waste of the extra years of my life reading this.

    Think I'll walk to the shops & buy a bag of doughnuts. Oh, but its 2 for the price of one - OK make that 2 bags. But I am exercising so that's OK, isn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    27. Absolutely! It's about young people growing up and accepting walking (and carrying a rucksack full of books) as normal. Use some shoe leather UK!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Buy a mountain bike, use it every day - only buy fresh foods that you
    can consume now - no tins or boxes or fast foods - no softdrinks, no
    take outs, no deep fried foods - you will lose 20-30kgs as well as all
    your stupid meds that may fix one thing, but create six other serious
    problems - think of the great accomplishment, you will feel wonderful

    Good luck !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Anyone who has ever been active know the benefits of regular exercise. The problem is, exercise needs some effort whereas taking pills requires very little effort. Hence most people will continue to take pills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Imagine if the government and its associates spent more money on financing sport, fitness and health classes in leisure centres and gyms making them more accessible to all rather than, in our area, people on benefits
    Except that the 'government and its associates' weren't involved. Imagine if people actually read articles before commenting and have a go at people on benefits...

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Not commenting on the exercise bit, nothing new there.

    However, "There were an average of 17.7 prescriptions for every person in England in 2010, compared with 11.2 in 2000."

    An increase of 58%. If this is an indication of quality of life it is a very damning statement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    If excercise can help with the problems that certain people have then they would have to be stupid or lazy to ignore the advice.

    I envisage most people would happily take the advice

    It would also save the NHS a fortune

    Offer no alternative if excercise is a Proven alternative to popping pills.

    2.5 hours over a week isn't a lot to ask for .

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    So, exercise can improve health, and aid healing better than pills?

    Once again, the obvious has been stated. Well done.

    I'm sure there will be some big Pharmaceuticals who will rapidly slate this report.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    The problem is that the Jeremy Kyle watching, steak bake eating, cigarette rolling underbelly of society have no interest in exercising.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Being fit enables you to fight back against disease, illness and injury, this is a fact! Medication does help.....but now we are relying on pills to stop us being fat, miserable, stupid, lazy..... We are now a nation of dependants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    always been very active......but I had a stroke.
    More to do with finance than medicine I believe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Perhaps if parents started walking their kids to school rather than driving them to the gate every day, perhaps the youngsters will grow up a bit fitter to start with and develop a healthy attitude to exercise for the rest of their lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I though that exercise helps cardio-vascular disease was self evident as long as you don`t overdo it. Everything in moderation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    My doctor measured my blood pressure once and started to write out a prescription as it was too high.
    I told him to stop, and that I would simply increase my exercise (I had stopped sport due to an injury).
    Within 4 weeks, after another blood pressure test by the same doctor, he grudglingly admitted that I no longer needed pills!

    Writing a prescription is an easy option and part of the problem


Page 18 of 20


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