Harvard Men's Health Watch

In the journals: Exercise benefit equals drugs for some health problems

For some common health conditions, the impact of exercise is just as great as medication therapy, according to a large-scale review of past clinical trials published in BMJ.

Researchers pooled the findings of 305 different studies, collectively involving about 339,000 people. The studies measured the impact of exercise or drugs on four common conditions: heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and high-normal blood sugar (pre-diabetes). Here are the main findings:

  • The benefit of exercise was about as strong as medication for people with clogged heart arteries.

  • Drugs and exercise also had a similar impact in people with pre-diabetes.

  • Exercise-based therapy had more impact than medication in people recovering from a stroke.

  • Diuretics, or "water pills," had a greater effect than exercise for treating a weak heart (heart failure).

In practice, medication and exercise are rarely an either/or choice. Both can be helpful, depending on the circumstances. But this new research reiterates the value of incorporating regular exercise in the treatment for common chronic conditions.

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