Harvard Heart Letter

Research we're watching: Living longer: Exercise at least as good as drugs



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If you have cardiovascular disease, exercise may boost your survival just as much as medications. That's according to a study in the medical journal BMJ that pooled data from more than 300 trials involving nearly 340,000 individuals. Researchers compared death rates among people with a history of stroke, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and prediabetes who were enrolled in trials that treated participants with exercise or medications.

They found that for stroke survivors, exercise lowered the odds of dying much more than taking medicines such as anti-clotting drugs, which are given to prevent future strokes. For people with coronary artery disease or early signs of diabetes, the benefits of exercise versus drugs were about the same. But for people with heart failure, diuretic drugs (used to treat fluid buildup and control blood pressure) were more effective than exercise and all other types of drug treatment.

In some situations, the authors point out, medications provide only modest benefits, so people deserve to know if and how exercise might help them. "Exercise interventions should therefore be considered as a viable alternative to, or, alongside, drug therapy," they conclude.

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