Regular physical activity is an indispensable part of a healthy lifestyle. The Global Burden of Disease study has ranked physical inactivity as one of the leading causes of disease in developed countries, and as one of the top modifiable risk factors along with smoking. Although widespread recommendations have been made to increase physical activity levels, the population as a whole is not heeding the advice. Contrast this lack of exercise with the rising use of prescription medications, and you might be left scratching your head.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal reviewed 305 clinical studies with well over 300,000 participants and found that there were no differences between exercise and drug interventions in the prevention of heart disease and diabetes. They found that exercise was more effective than drug treatment in patients with stroke, and they did find that diuretics were more effective than exercise in people with heart failure.

A major finding of this study wasn’t even that exercise may be as effective, or even better, than drug treatment. What the researchers found was that the number of studies on the effects of exercise for disease prevention, especially when compared to pharmaceutical drugs, was much smaller than similar studies looking at drug treatments.

“Our findings reflect the bias against testing exercise interventions and highlight the changing landscape of medical research, which seems to increasingly favor drug interventions over strategies to modify lifestyle,” they stated. “The lopsided nature of modern medical research may fail to detect the most effective treatment for a given conditions if that treatment is not a prescription drug.” They recommend that exercise interventions should be considered as a viable alternative to, or alongside, drug therapy.

Exercise and proper diet are the first recommendations that should be made when you discover that your blood sugar is too high or that your blood lipids (cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.) are abnormal. Through these measures it is possible to prevent diabetes and heart disease. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your options. You may have more control over your health than you realize.