Exercise vs. Meds

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal compared the effectiveness of exercise against that of proven medications in decreasing the risk of death in people known for coronary artery (heart) disease, stroke, heart failure and diabetes prevention. They looked at the combined results of 305 randomized control studies (the gold standard for clinical trials, with random participants receiving the intervention, with neither the testers nor the participants knowing who is receiving the intervention) involving almost 340,000 participants to come up with an answer.

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The conclusion was that exercise is as effective as medications. More specifically, it’s as effective as three of the most commonly used medications to decrease the risk of death in people with coronary artery disease. It is more effective than blood-thinning medications prescribed after stroke. Only one medication class (diuretics or water pills) showed some evidence of being more effective in decreasing the risk of death in people with heart failure. Conversely, medications are as effective as exercise in decreasing the risk of diabetes in people with pre-diabetes (exercise has been shown to delay the risk of onset of Type 2 diabetes, the type most associated with aging).

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends that adults aged 18 to 64 should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate (e.g., brisk walking, bike riding) to vigorous (e.g., jogging, cross-country skiing) intensity aerobic exercise per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. (Or do it 30 minutes a day, five days a week.) It also notes it is beneficial to add muscle- and bone-strengthening exercises at least twice a week. Adults 65 years of age and older and those with poor mobility should perform physical activities to enhance balance and prevent falls. Do what you can and as much of it as possible.

Dr. Zachary Levine is an Assistant Professor  in the Faculty of Medicine  at McGill University Health Centre and medical correspondent for AM 740 (a zoomermedia property).