Cardiovascular system: Sport does more than medication

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Sport can replace medication for certain diseases

Exercise could make medication superfluous for certain diseases. This is the conclusion reached by scientists from the London School of Economics and Political Science and Stanford University. They evaluate studies in which the effectiveness of medication or sport was examined. The researchers' conclusion: The health potential of sport has so far been underused.

Premature death from some illnesses could be avoided through exercise Many illnesses could be prevented through exercise. Lack of exercise is a common problem in industrialized countries. Long sitting at work and an unhealthy lifestyle lead to illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in many people. But instead of a healthy diet and sufficient exercise, some patients prefer to swallow medication such as beta-blockers. However, this is often not the best choice, as Huseyin Naci from the London School of Economics and Political Science and John Ioannidis from Stanford University demonstrated in their analysis of data from 300,000 people. Because with certain illnesses, sport provides better protection against premature death than medication.

As part of their investigation, the scientists first obtained an overview of all available clinical data on the effect of movement on mortality. They discovered four overview studies on the early stages of various diseases: diabetes, diseases of the coronary arteries, heart attack and stroke. All studies except the diabetes study found that exercise has a positive effect on patient health. The risk of dying during the study period was reduced if the participants exercised regularly.

Sports should be more effective than medication to prevent stroke. In the next step, the scientists again searched the medicine databases. This time they wanted to investigate the effect of medication on the four clinical pictures. The evaluation showed that medication - with the exception of diabetes - can also protect against premature death. However, the effectiveness of the remedies is not always higher than that of sport. Medicines such as statins and beta blockers for diseases of the coronary arteries were roughly the same as sports. The effects of diuretics outweighed the effects of heart failure and the effects of exercise in the case of stroke.

This meta-analysis was the first to compare the effects of sport and medication. However, it also showed that there is "significantly more data on the effect of medication than on the effect of exercise", the scientists report in the "British Medical Journal". For example, only the data of 227 patients could be considered for the evaluation of the effect of sport on mortality from stroke. The effects of blood-thinning medications, however, have been studied in more than 70,000 patients. The results of the evaluation of Naci and Ioannidis must therefore be substantiated in further studies. They can still only be interpreted with caution.

Efficacy of sport and medication needs to be examined in further studies "Unilateral, drug-focused research may lead to the most effective therapies for clinical pictures remaining undetected if it is not treatment with medication," the researchers continue. It is necessary to carry out further studies in which the effect of preventive medication is compared with that of sport, because the meta-analysis shows another weakness: not only the size of the patient groups, but also the severity of the disease could differ greatly in some cases and may have falsified the result.

"Although only in limited numbers, existing randomized studies on the effect of exercise do suggest that exercise and many medications often have a potentially similar effectiveness in reducing mortality in the prevention of coronary artery disease, stroke rehabilitation, treatment of heart failure and prevention of diabetes, ”the researchers write. (ag)

Image: Julien Christ /

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