Is Exercise Better Than Drugs for Disease Management?
For years, healthcare experts have warned against America’s growing dependence on prescription medications.
Indeed, if you divided the more than four billion prescriptions doctors write on an annual basis over the entire U.S. population, each individual would take just over a dozen different drugs each year.
At the same time, 80 percent of adults don’t get the minimum amount of weekly exercise recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)— two-and-a-half hours of moderate activity or one-hour-and-a-quarter hours of intense activity, with some additional strength-building mixed in.
However, this is a pattern of behavior we may want to reconsider in light of a recent analysis that found regular workouts might be just as effective, or better for managing conditions such as stroke, heart disease, heart failure and prediabetes.
A group of researchers from the United Kingdom (U.K.) recently compared commonly-prescribed medications for these chronic conditions (i.e. statins, diuretics, beta blockers, enzyme inhibitors, anticoagulants, etc.) against exercise to determine which method resulted in better health outcomes.
An analysis of over 300 different studies indicated that breaking a sweat was more effective than drugs for those recovering from a stroke, and as effective as the majority of the drugs prescribed for cardiac conditions and prediabetes.
The only medication class that one-upped exercise with regards to reducing a person’s risk of death was diuretics prescribed to heart failure patients.
“Exercise and many drug interventions are often potentially similar in terms of their mortality benefits; exercise interventions should therefore be considered as a viable alternative to, or alongside, drug therapy,” say study authors.
Why more docs don‘t suggest exercise
Doctors write countless prescriptions for medications on a regular basis, but only about one third “prescribe” exercise to their patients, according to the CDC.
Why do so many physicians reach for the prescription pad instead of pointing out the closest gym?
Prescription drugs have to go through a rigorous set of clinical trials in order to make it to market, meaning their benefits and side effects are well-documented. On the other hand, surprisingly little research has been conducted on how sweat sessions stack up against their pharmaceutical equivalents for managing chronic illness. Leading many doctors to stick to what has been proven to improve their patients’ conditions—medications.
“The current body of medical literature largely constricts clinicians to drug options,” the U.K. researchers lament. They suggest future research delve into the pros and cons of using exercise as opposed to drugs as a disease management technique.
Explore all the options with your physician
The majority of health conditions can be managed in multiple ways: with prescriptions, with alternative therapies, or with a combination of both techniques.
The key for patients is to be informed, and engage in an open dialogue with their physician about all of the available treatment options.
These discussions are not always easy to have. Doctors have become exceedingly busy, often spending no more than a quarter of an hour with each patient. Many patients are hesitant to voice questions and concerns due to lack of understanding of their condition, or an unapproachable doctor.
Here are a few resources where you can find strategies for making discussions with your doctor easier:
Is Your Doctor Lying to You?
How Music Can be Used as Medicine
Why Knee Surgery is a Very Big Deal
How to turn Housework into a Workout
Should Physician Assisted Suicide be Legal?
The Healing Power of Pets
By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor