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Exercise may beat drugs when it comes to stroke treatment

October 4, 2013

Older adults who are at a heightened risk for conditions such as stroke and heart disease are often prescribed medication to keep the issues at bay, but new research suggests a more natural route - exercise - could be just as effective. Researchers from the London School of Economics, Harvard Medical School and the Stanford University School of Medicine analyzed more than 300 trials and found that there are no significant statistical differences between drug treatment and exercise intervention. 

Stroke patients benefit most
The study, published recently in the British Medical Journal, was focused on 305 randomized control trials that involved more than 339,200 participants. While the researchers noticed that, overall, there was no statistically significant difference between the two methods, when it came to stroke, exercising was actually the better route for treating the condition. Conversely, drugs were the better option for treating heart failure, scientists said. The team hopes its results will change the way some people view exercise as a treatment option.

"The current body of medical literature largely constricts clinicians to drug options," the authors wrote. "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."

Ample evidence 
Aside from being an important aspect of healthy aging, as the study points out, physical activity can aid in recovery from certain health conditions, especially stroke, The Washington Post reported. Specifically, previous research has suggested that exercise on a treadmill can help stroke patients regain their previous levels of mobility more quickly compared to a traditional route such as physical therapy. 

"Rehabilitation can have some impact even months to years after a stroke," Ralph Sacco, past president of the American Heart Association-American Stroke Association, told the newspaper. "The brain can relearn and recover. Physical activity can open up some new pathways."

Good timing
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year approximately 795,000 Americans experience a stroke, and though many of them survive, a substantial portion is left with physical or mental limitations. As the senior population is set to increase in the coming years, uncovering effective treatment methods is of the utmost importance.