Exercise could be just as effective as drugs in treating stroke and coronary heart disease patients, a new review of studies suggests.
The review, published online in the British Medical Journal, included analysis of 305 randomized controlled trials with a total of 339,274 people. Researchers did not find statistically significant differences in secondary prevention of heart disease (which involves treatment of heart disease patients to prevent the illness from becoming significant), nor prevention of diabetes, between exercise and drugs.
In addition, researchers found that exercise trumped drugs for stroke patients. Meanwhile, among heart failure patients, diuretic drugs seemed to be more effective than both exercise and other drugs at preventing diabetes and secondary prevention of heart disease.
Authors of the review came from the London School of Economics, the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute at Harvard Medical School, and the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Researchers noted that studies examining the benefits of exercise in preventing death are scarce, and even in studies where there is such evidence, "exercise trials evaluating mortality outcomes were at a disadvantage in two ways: considerably fewer trials evaluated exercise than drugs (57 out of 305 trials), and fewer people participated in exercise trials."
"Our findings reflect the bias against testing exercise interventions and highlight the changing landscape of medical research, which seems to increasingly favor drug interventions over strategies to modify lifestyle," they wrote in the review. "The current body of medical literature largely constricts clinicians to drug options. This blind spot in available scientific evidence prevents prescribers and their patients from understanding the clinical circumstances where drugs might provide only modest improvement but exercise could yield more profound or sustainable gains in health. The lopsided nature of modern medical research may fail to detect the most effective treatment for a given condition if that treatment is not a prescription drug."