Drop The Pill Bottle, Pick Up The Yoga Mat

Exercise is "as effective" as prescription drugs for preventing and treating certain conditions — including type 2 diabetes and heart disease — according to a new study from BMJ. Researchers suggest that hitting the gym "should be considered a viable alternative" to hitting the pill bottle, or at least a complementary measure.

One of the saddest things about all the medical advances in the past century is how we've lost site of non-pill and procedure-based remedies, such as exercise, nutrition and supplements. So kudos to an international team of scientists for collaborating on a huge analysis of studies on exercise and disease prevention. The researchers — from the London School of Economics, Harvard Medical School and Stanford University School of Medicine — compared the effectiveness of exercise versus drug interventions on preventing diabetes, preventing heart disease, treating heart failure and recovering from stroke. What they found is as encouraging as it is surprising.

The research team analyzed some 305 randomized controlled trials involving 339,274 people. They found no statistically detectable differences between exercise and medication for preventing diabetes or preventing complications from heart disease. For those with heart failure, diuretic drugs were found more effective than exercise or any other type of drug treatment. But for stroke patients, exercise was more effective than any type of drug.

While there's a lot of research on the health benefits of exercising, there are far, far fewer studies directly comparing the effects exercise to medication on disease treatment or prevention. "I think there will likely be a culture shift in the coming years with exercise interventions gaining more interest," said Huseyin Naci, a researcher from LSE. "If such a shift occurs, patients and physicians may demand such evidence about the comparative life saving benefits of exercise and drugs."

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