Heart disease, diabetes: physical activity as a prescription

Much more than a simple means of keeping in shape, regular physical exercise has proven to be as effective as several medications in reducing the mortality of people affected by certain heart diseases or diabetes.

We have therefore never been so inactive, a sedentary lifestyle that is in complete opposition to the physiology of the human body. With its approximately 640 different muscles, which account for around 35% of body mass, the human body has a physiology perfectly adapted to intense physical activity. Yet, with the exception of athletes or people whose professions are physically demanding (workers, firefighters, soldiers), most people have little physical effort to perform in the course of their work or daily tasks. .

On average, an adult devotes almost 10 hours of his waking period each day to sedentary activities, devoid of any physical exertion! This situation is a direct consequence of the technological advances which have completely transformed the modern way of life: motorized modes of transport make it possible to overcome great distances effortlessly, computers occupy a central place in an ever-increasing number of professions, not to mention the avalanche of new electronic devices that continue to reduce the energy expenditure of our slightest gestures and activities.

Exercise: a cure for heart disease and diabetes

The current sedentary lifestyle has enormous consequences on health, because physical inactivity is now recognized as an important risk factor for obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and certain cancers (breast, colon). The lack of physical activity is directly responsible each year for more than five million deaths in the world, which is as much as smoking.

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If physical inactivity is also detrimental to health, could we consider exercise as a method of treating certain illnesses? To answer this question, researchers analyzed all of the studies that compared the effectiveness of different drugs and exercise in reducing the mortality of people affected by three types of heart disease (coronary disease, heart failure, stroke) and diabetes. The result of their observations is very surprising: in many cases, exercise presents clinical improvements as effective as medication!

Thus, a person with heart disease who exercises, without medication, to avoid dying from this condition, has the same mortality risk as one who is treated with medication. In some cases, like stroke, exercise is even slightly better than medication, while in others, like heart failure, medication is more effective.

Incorporate physical activity into your lifestyle

This beneficial role of physical exercise obviously does not mean that all medications should be discarded out of hand, as these remain an essential component in the treatment of many illnesses.

On the other hand, these observations show how lifestyle can exert a huge influence on health and people who are affected by heart disease or diabetes have every advantage in integrating, with adequate professional supervision, the regular physical exercise to their habits.

Physical activity is not just a way to stay in shape or to control your weight: being physically active is absolutely essential for maintaining good health.


Lee IM et al. Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. Lancets; 380: 219-29.

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Naci H and Ioannidis JPA. Comparative effectiveness of exercise and drug interventions on mortality outcomes: metaepidemiological study. BMJ;347:f5577


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