Only about a third of U.S. doctors prescribe exercise in primary care — but new British Medical Journalresearch may encourage them to add physical activity to their arsenal. Exercise may be as effective as medications in combating health problems that kill thousands of Americans each year, the analysis reveals.
The researchers reviewed the findings of 16 meta-analyses, including 305 individual studies involving 339,274 people, and concluded that physical activity and drug therapy similarly reduce a patient’s likelihood of dying from common health conditions, like heart disease and prediabetes. Exercise was even more effective than meds at reducing the risk of death from a stroke.
This is in stark contrast to the current view of exercise as a secondary strategy for disease prevention. In fact, the scientists say, the medical community so strongly favors drug studies that research on lifestyle modifications (like working out) has become something of a blind spot.
This oversight may, in turn, impact the kind of care that we receive, since there’s not enough solid evidence to encourage docs to prescribe exercise in lieu of drugs. And it may explain, for example, why cholesterol-lowering meds have shifted from a last-resort treatment to a first-line approach.
Because of this research gap — and the differences in workout protocols used in the studies that do exist — the scientists warn that, for now, we should interpret their findings with caution. So they’re not quite ready to tell us all to ditch our drugs (that’d just be irresponsible). But, one thing is certain: Staying active is a solid way to take control of your health.