A new study raises questions about whether our health care system emphasizes too much on medications, and not enough on activity to counter physical ailments. British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently published a study which compared how well some drugs versus exercise did among people who had been diagnosed with conditions including diabetes and heart disease.

Dr. John Ioannidis, the director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and So Huseyin Naci, a graduate student at the London School of Economics and Political Science compared the effectiveness of drugs and exercise in reducing mortality among people who had been diagnosed with 4 diseases: heart disease, chronic heart failure, stroke and diabetes.

Their results consistently showed that drugs and exercise yielded the same results. People with heart disease who exercised, but did not use prescribed medicines, including statins, angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors or antiplatelet drugs had the same risk of dying from, or surviving heart disease, as patients taking those drugs. And, people with diabetes who exercised had the same risk of dying from it as as those who took prescribed drugs.

However, people who had had a stroke had less risk of dying from that condition if they exercised rather than taking medications, though the study authors noted that stroke patients who exercise may have been healthier initially.

Drugs were only more effective in the study looking at chronic heart failure – diuretics were more effective than exercise.

Dr. Ioannidis said, “our results suggest that exercise can be quite potent. Only 5 percent of the available and relevant experiments in this new analysis involved exercise. We need far more information about how exercise compares, head to head, with drugs in the treatment of many conditions, as well as what types and amounts of exercise confer the most benefit and whether there are side effects, such as injuries.”

Adds Mr. Naci, “we are not suggesting that anyone stop taking their medications. But maybe people could think long and hard about their lifestyles and talk to their doctors about whether exercise could and should be incorporated into their care.”     nytimeshealth   12/12/13

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