Researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Harvard Medical School, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute in Boston and Stanford University School of Medicine in California conducted a meta-analysis of 305 research projects involving 340,000 patients diagnosed with one of four diseases: heart disease, chronic heart failure, stroke or pre-diabetes.
The researchers compared the mortality rates of those prescribed medication for common serious health conditions, with 57 studies involving 15,000 volunteers enrolled in exercise programs.
The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, found medication worked best for those with heart failure, but physical activity was at least as effective as the drugs which were normally prescribed for borderline diabetes, heart disease and might be better for stroke.
Although exercise seemed to be more effective than drug interventions in stroke rehabilitation, and diuretics seemed to be more effective than exercise interventions in heart failure treatment, these findings should be interpreted with caution given the scarceness of data and the different settings involved, the researchers wrote in the study.
Despite research suggesting regular physical activity could be "quite potent" in improving survival odds, but until more studies are done, patients should not stop taking their medications without taking medical advice, the researchers warned.
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