Are there actually any health benefits of exercise? Isn’t it OK to avoid the gym and just pop a cholesterol and blood pressure pill? A new study shows big risk reductions for older people who exercise that make the puny risk reductions you get from popping pills look like M & M flavored placebos!
First, cholesterol lowering pills are a middle aged rite of passage in America. Just pop a few of these babies and be assured of a long life is what the marketing suggests. However, what most people don’t know is that despite the huge side effect profiles of cholesterol drugs, these pills have a minuscule impact on health. The best and most favorable studies show a tiny 2% risk reduction in cardiac risk over 5 years! You’d frankly do just as well by eating dark chocolate or blueberries! In addition, since causes of death such as cancer usually go up in these studies, the “all cause” mortality (death from any cause) is usually a wash. Given that death is a binary outcome (you’re dead or you’re not), reducing cardiac deaths only to have another cause of death increase isn’t really helpful.
How about blood pressure pills? As they age, become less active, and gain weight, many middle aged and elderly people end up on these medications to control high blood pressure. So how do they impact whether we’ll live longer? As an example, the all cause mortality decrease was about 13% in one large review of many studies.
How about if an older person just exercises? In the study I’m highlighting today, almost 80,000 patients over 65 were studied using data from annual government health exams. The patients were asked how many times a week they had physical activity for >30 minutes. Compared to subjects with no physical activity, those who had physical activity 1-2 times per week had a decreased risk of all-cause mortality of 23%! Patients with 3–5 times of physical activity per week had a decreased risk of all-cause mortality of 46%! Think about that for a second. You can pop a pill and get between a 0-13% decrease in risk of dying from any cause or you can exercise three times a week for 30 minutes and get a 46% reduction!
The upshot? While this is only one large study, others show similar big effects for exercise that dwarf what modern pills can accomplish. This even extends to diagnoses like breast cancer, with one recent study showing a whopping 43% decrease in dying from breast cancer if the woman was active before the diagnosis. In the end, modern pharma based medicine has yet to approach the kind of health benefits you can get from even just moderate exercise!