Exercise Beats Drugs for Reducing Heart Disease Deaths

high-intensity exercise better

Running reduces heart disease deaths better than drugs. Photo by Mingo Hagen

Most of us know that exercise is good for the heart. But did you know that exercise is better at reducing deaths from heart disease than pharmaceuticals?

Exercise versus drugs

In a new study published in the British Journal of Medicine, exercise either outperforms or is as effective as most heart disease drugs. This means exercise beats heart drugs because exercise is free and has no known adverse effects.

The researchers utilized three major meta-studies (studies that combine multiple clinical trials) to compile the statistics. In total, that data utilized 305 studies that tested nearly 340,000 people.

For some conditions, such as among strokes, exercise performed significantly better than drugs – anticoagulants and antiplatelets. In other conditions, such as heart disease, coronary heart disease and prediabetes, exercise performed in the range of the drugs. For these, the effectiveness of exercise was considered “similar” to the drugs.

Drugs tested among the studies outside of the two stroke drugs included ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, statins, diuretics, angiotensin receptor blockers, alpha glucosidase inhibitors, thiazolidinediones, biguanides and glinides.

Among the side effects of some of these drugs include headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, ulcers, nightmares, blurred vision, fatigue, liver damage, muscle pain, rashes, muscle cramping, hallucinations, blood sugar issues, gout, impotence, male breast enlargement, menstrual problems, allergic reactions, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction and many others.

Exercise “side effects”

Exercise comes with one major side effect: Fatigue. But this is accompanied by the rush of our body’s own cannabinoids – compounds that render a natural “high,” along with a flurry of beneficial effects to the nervous system, brain, heart, liver and lungs.

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One of the shortcomings of this study was the fact that all forms of exercise were lumped together into the exercise category.

High-intensity interval training

One form of exercise that is getting increasing attention for its ability to effect cardiovascular conditions is called high intensity interval training or dynamic exercise. This is when the exercise increases in intensity for shorter periods, in contrast with more prolonged exercise. Multiple studies have found that the shorter, high-intensity exercise routines outperform prolonged “endurance” exercise in preventing heart disease.

In a University of California-Davis study, higher-intensity exercise produced higher levels of P450 metabolites – which help render flexibility to the blood vessel walls.

So we submit that given the lack of specificity with regard to the type of exercise – leaving the most optimal types of exercise.

Is high-intensity exercise good for us as we age?

To answer that question about whether higher-intensity exercise is good for the elderly, researchers from the Spain’s Pontevedra University of Education and Sport Sciences tested 62 women above the age of 65 for five months. They separated the women into two groups. One of the groups did high-intensity exercise along with flexibility and aerobic exercises, while the second group did calisthenics instead of the high-intensity training (but still did the aerobic and flexibility exercises).

After the five months, the researchers found that the women doing the high-frequency, high-intensity exercises scored higher than the other group in a number of criteria. The researchers concluded:

“Older women can take part in high-frequency, high-intensity training programs with no risk to their health while experiencing improvements to their quality of life, cognitive function, degree of independence and physical fitness.”

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Naci H, Lloannidis JP. Comparative effectiveness of exercise and drug interventions on mortality outcomes: metaepidemiological study. BMJ 2013; Oct 1; 347 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f5577

Giordano RM, Newman JW, Pedersen TL, Ramos MI, Stebbins CL. Effects of dynamic exercise on plasma arachidonic acid epoxides and diols in human volunteers. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Dec;21(6):471-9.

Sato K, Ogoh S, Hirasawa A, Oue A, Sadamoto T. The distribution of blood flow in the carotid and vertebral arteries during dynamic exercise in humans. J Physiol. 2011 Jun 1;589(Pt 11):2847-56. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2010.204461.

Hawkins MN, Barnes Q, Purkayastha S, Eubank W, Ogoh S, Raven PB. The effects of aerobic fitness and beta1-adrenergic receptor blockade on cardiac work during dynamic exercise. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2009 Feb;106(2):486-93. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.90795.2008.

Cancela Carral JM, Ayán Pérez C. Effects of high-intensity combined training on women over 65. Gerontology. 2007;53(6):340-6.

Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn our health around. As I drove home that night, I realized this knowledge should be available to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.”

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