LONDON -- Physical activity may be as effective as drugs in treating heart disease and should be included as a comparison in the development of new medicines, a review published yesterday in the British Medical Journal suggests.

No statistically detectable differences were evident between exercise and drug treatment for patients with coronary heart disease or prediabetes, and exercise was more effective among those recovering from a stroke, according to a review of 16 meta-analyses that included 305 studies involving 339,274 participants. The review was conducted by researchers at Harvard and Stanford universities.

The analysis adds to evidence of the benefit of nonmedical approaches to disease through behavior and lifestyle changes. Given the cost of drug treatment, regulators should consider requiring pharmaceutical companies to include exercise for comparison in clinical trials of new medicines, authors Huseyin Naci of Harvard and John Ioannidis of Stanford say.

Not all patients benefit more from exercise than from drugs, however. For those recovering from heart failure, diuretic medicines were more effective, according to the analysis. -- Bloomberg News

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