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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Drugs Vs. Dumbbells

Published October 9, 2013 2:56 PM by Michael Jones

I’ve been a consistent runner since I was about 15 years old. I started when I joined my school’s cross country team, where the team motto was, “Our sport is your sport’s punishment.” At first, they were absolutely right -- it felt like punishment, but eventually it became a part of me. To date, I have run two marathons and am at the height of training for a third.

I think the reason I’ve stayed with it for as long as I have comes down to three factors. First, and most obviously, is my physical health; the second reason probably boils down to something of an addiction to the feeling I get after a long run -- a mix of endorphins and a sense of accomplishment; and the last (and biggest) reason is that I find it to be therapeutic. Running helps me relax, think and keeps me healthy both mentally and physically. A recent article from Medical News Today detailed the benefits of exercise and the possibility of its applications in treatment for certain diseases -- in some cases, over or even instead of medicine. (1)

“I think there will likely be a culture shift in the coming years with exercise interventions gaining more interest,” said Huseyin Naci, doctoral candidate and researcher at the London School of Economics and population medicine fellow at Harvard University, in the Medical News Today article. “If such a shift occurs, patients and physicians may demand such evidence about the comparative life saving benefits of exercise and drugs.”

According to the story, a research team comprised of members from the London School of Economics, the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute at Harvard Medical School and the Stanford University School of Medicine studied the impacts of exercise versus clinical drugs for secondary prevention for four types of disorders: coronary heart disease, stroke rehabilitation, treatment of heart failure and the prevention of diabetes. “Secondary prevention” is the treatment of a pre-existing disease before it causes harm.

The study determined that, while prescribing drugs in comparison to simple exercise have essentially the same effect when treating heart disease or in diabetes prevention, heart failure patients responded better to diuretic drugs more than exercise. For patients recovering from a stroke, however, exercise was determined to be more effective than a drug prescription. (1)

“In cases where drug options provide only modest benefit, patients deserve to understand the relative impact that physical activity might have on their condition,” wrote the researchers according to the Medical News Today piece.

Of course, the article also noted that exercise has been demonstrated to be beneficial for general health, but the idea of exercise as an alternative to medicine in cases of common problems like coronary disease or stroke had largely not been pursued in testing. Despite a lacking amount of research on the topic, the researchers pointed out that 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.’” (1)

1-Weber, B. Exercise 'as effective as drugs' for common diseases. Medical News Today. Retrieved from Published October 3, 2013. Accessed October 8, 2013. 


Great post! Can exercise also prevent or repair cumulative injury? Drugs can change what the body does, but exercise changes what the body is. "Back school" graduates might be better off with moderate weight resistance training and jogging or brisk walks.

Scott Warner October 13, 2013 5:15 PM

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