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Harvard study shows exercise as effective as drug intervention

Last updated on October 24, 2017

When it comes to chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, Harvard medical research shows that physical activity can be just as potentially effective as drug intervention.

In studies that involved the life-saving benefits of physical exercise, results show that exercise can be as successful at reducing the risk of death as medication for a wide range of illnesses.

While there have been numerous studies on the benefits of physical activity, very few — until now — have involved exercise as a medication. This is where researchers have discovered that, in many cases, physical exercise proved just as effective, if not potentially better, than drug therapy when it came to averting illnesses such as diabetes and strokes.

Illnesses that benefited the most from exercise were stroke rehabilitation, coronary heart disease, diabetes prevention and treatment of heart failure. While there’s no arguing that drug therapy is effective, doctors are working with patients to consider their best treatment plan, now fully aware that exercise should be considered as a possible alternative to medication.

The extensive Harvard study, which was conducted in collaboration with Stanford School of Medicine, involved 339, 274 patients and showed that stroke patients benefited the most from physical exercise, while patients recovering from congestive heart failure — a progressive weakness of the heart — benefited more from diuretic drugs than exercise. For the secondary prevention of diabetes and heart disease, there were no statistically detectable differences between drug treatments and exercise.

This is not to say that doctors are recommending patients skip their meds or trade them in for a gym membership, only that incorporating physical exercise into their treatment plan could prove — and has proved — extremely beneficial. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of Americans over the age of 18 continue to fail to meet the recommended level of physical activity, either aerobically or in the way of strength-training exercises.

The CDC says that 35.9 percent of Americans over the age of 20 are obese, while 69.2 percent of American adults are either overweight or obese. More disturbing, 18.4 percent of adolescents 12 to 19 are obese, while 18.0 percent of kids aged 6 to 11 are obese and 12.1 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 5 are medically obese.

The CDC also points out that according to a 2010 survey by National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care, 75.1 percent of physician visits involve drug therapy and that there were approximately 2.6 billion drugs either ordered or provided. The most frequently ordered or provided therapeutic drugs include analgesics, antihyperlipidemic agents and antidepressants.

The same survey showed that 48.5 percent of Americans have had at least one drug prescription in the past month, while 21.7 percent have three or more. Approximately 10.6 percent of the American population has used five or more drug prescriptions in the last 30 days.


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