A lot of heart patients would be just as well off—and some potential stroke victims even better off—if their doctors prescribed physical activity instead of drugs, according to a new study. Researchers say they crunched the numbers from hundreds of studies involving 340,000 patients to pit medication against exercise—what they call a "blind spot" in research—and they found exercise as effective as drugs to prevent repeat heart attacks and Type 2 diabetes, the Wall Street Journal reports. Exercise proved to be more effective than drugs for preventing repeat strokes, but medication was more effective for patients recovering from heart failure.
"Exercise is a potent strategy to save and extend life in coronary heart disease and other conditions," say the researchers, who suggest regulators consider requiring drug companies to compare the relative benefits of exercise during clinical trials of new medicines, reports Bloomberg. Experts called the study results "exciting"—but stressed that heart patients should use exercise in tandem with medication instead of as a substitute, and talk to their doctor before stopping medication or beginning an exercise program.