Seniors should consider exercise to help treat health conditions

There’s no denying that exercise is a cornerstone of healthy senior living. An active lifestyle can help older adults ward off cognitive decline and reduce their risk of falling, among many other benefits. A new study from researchers at the London School of Economics, Harvard Medical School and the Stanford University School of Medicine found that in some cases, exercise may actually be a better treatment for certain health conditions than prescription medication, according to findings published in the British Medical Journal.

Combined treatment
The results are based on an extensive analysis of more than 300 previously conducted trials involving hundreds of thousands of participants. In many cases, researchers found there was no substantial statistical difference between how well patients fared when they followed an exercise regimen or a drug program. In fact, when it came to stroke patients, those who exercised actually enjoyed greater benefits. The findings highlight the fact that seniors with heart disease and cardiovascular issues should not focus on just one treatment option.

“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,”  the researchers concluded “The lopsided nature of modern medical research may fail to detect the most effective treatment for a given condition if that treatment is not a prescription drug.”

Backs up previous findings
This is not the first time that exercise has proven to have a significant impact on stroke recovery. In fact, previous research has found that physical activity may also have a positive effect on the mental well-being of stroke patients. A 2010 study from the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute found that even low-intensity exercise can reduce the depressive symptoms that are felt by many stroke patients. Additionally, it can improve physical therapy outcomes. Experts say the should encourage health care experts to incorporate exercise into recovery plans.

“It’s important to know that depression is treatable. Patients and caregivers should mention depressive symptoms and seek treatment during follow-up visits with their neurologist, internist or family physician,” Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr. Michael Hill said.

Such findings could have a significant impact on the senior population. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Canada, and there are about 50,000 strokes each year, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.