Exercise 'can be as good as pills'

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

Related Stories

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%."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Let me know when Pills can be as good as exercise... I'll be listening then.

  • Comment number 163.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    If only it were as easy and cheap as it sounds to get more exercise! When flats/houses don't offer enough space to use the Wii or an exercise DVD or don't include anywhere to store a bike, or there aren't any cycle lanes in the area, or the weather is cr*p and just doesn't make you want to cycle/jog/walk outside... expensive gyms look like the only option left!

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    and we wonder why obesity is on the rise........
    Down rated for saying go on short walks and eat fruit and veg now and then. Not saying buy expensive gear & gym membership. Just a few little changes = dramatic diff.
    People just don't like being told.
    People only moan at them because they don't listen first off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    I'm 22 st, never exercise and eat a diet consisting almost entierly of chicken & chips. I'm in pretty good shape , with no issues other than my weight

    meanwhile my 15st mate who is obsessed with health, works out 4 hours a day has massive lung and heart problems that his doctor said were caused by smoking but exaggerated by over exercising.

    Just pointing out that exercise isn't a cure all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.


    This comment is everything that is wrong with modern civilisation...

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    Moaning at people to exercise is a great way to put them off.

    Being overweight and unhealthy tends to be a vicious cycle of self-esteem issues, and people making overweight folks feel bad about themselves makes them feel like they 'can't' make themselves better, like they are useless.

    Fat shaming makes the problem worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    I thought laughter was the best medicine?

    From now on, I will exercise while I laugh. Before you know it, I'll be a super fit, healthy specimen of a man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    We were born to run. Achilles tendon, ligament in the nek stablisies head whilst running, get moving. Also, we weren't supposed to have chunky shoes or soles. Get rid and buy something thin! (C.McDougal - Born to Run = great book)

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Not exactly groundbreaking really, I think we have all known this for a very long time. However inbetween working and travelling 12 hours a day due to demands for increased efficiency (i.e work harder stop smiling) and running a house its no wonder people reach for the pills first I train 3x a week but its a struggle to fit it in

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    In other news water wet; sky blue, people stupid.

    People are only fat because they want to be - funny how there's no 'obesity epidemic' in Ethiopia.

    £70 = 14 burger meals, or 1 pair of running shoes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Exercise is good for you? The only thing surprising about this article is that this was not already a given! Modern medicine is very effective at treating symptoms but the root cause is neglected, a more holistic approach should take in lifestyle and be preventative rather than just treatment. It would require an increase in funding in the short term but i'm sure it would save money over time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    "Exercise 'can be as good as pills' .."


    Hey, that good, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Every HYS on this website is full of people making snide comments about how things should be or moaning about how wrong everything is.

    Is life that poor for everyone? Really? I find it so sad how unhappy everyone is.

    And they get VOTED UP.

    Not Impressed

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Shock. Exercise is good for you.
    Exercise & balanced diet. Why is that so hard for people? A couple of brisk walks a week and eat some fruit & veg now & then is all that is needed. Don't need to become gym bunnies to get benefits. People just want quick fixes for everything and easier to pop a pill rather than get off but for what a 15min walk?

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    As ObamaCare is now part of the Federal shutdown - whoopee - it must
    now be seen as a very stupid approach to a better lifestyle, just popping
    pills simply does not work - big pharma & politics are lousy excuses for
    not getting off the sofa & burning up all those excess 'comfort' calories.

    Buy a mountain bike - your heart and lungs will thank you - every day

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Everytime i m in the gym, i ask myself how ludicrous the whole process is, what a wasted effort, couldn't we all volunteer our muscles and bodies to a tangible cause like digging in charity gardens, building houses for the poor, taking the elderly for walks rather than huffing and puffing going nowhere on treadmills and stationary bikes and lifting pieces of metal up and down, food for thought

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    I have this great idea for a new diet.


  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Cnjo1(comment 82) - It is better to eat healthy but I have found that as along as you don't overeat you can get away with it by exercising. I had an over 40's nhs medical and the nurse was adamant that tests on my blood and bp proved that I must be eating healthy. She refused to believe that I eat crap until I told her that I run 3 times a week.
    I always hate running but feel great afterwards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    I have to say I agree.

    I believe everyone can find a form of exercise they enjoy. Walking, weights and floor exercises are my favourite, but I shied away from it for years as I saw exercise as sport related, competitive and a chore.

    It's all about getting into the right mindset to motivate yourself. See it as fun and something to take your mind off things, not as something you 'have' to do.


Page 12 of 20


More Health stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.