No chemical solution: Medications alone won’t ensure robust health, longer lifespan

DALLAS, Texas — When it comes to ensuring a long and healthy life, medications and pills will only take you so far. That’s the main conclusion drawn from a new study which finds a healthy diet, steady exercise, and abstinence from smoking are essential to one’s overall health regardless of how many medications they’re taking at any given moment.

The world of medicine has advanced considerably over the past century or so. The relief modern medications can provide for patients dealing with any number of ailments is truly astounding. All that being said, though, prescription medications aren’t magic. Even if an individual is taking multiple medications for various medical issues, a healthy lifestyle is still a huge factor for reducing the risk of death by any cause.

A daily regimen of numerous pills is a fact of life for millions of Americans. In the midst of all that, getting in an hour of exercise or making positive changes to one’s diet can feel like an exercise in futility. Many may say, “if all these pills can’t get the job done, what good will some exercise do?” Researcher say it’s easy to fall into negative thought patterns like that. Their study serves as an important reminder that no pill is an adequate replacement for a healthy lifestyle.

“We’ve long known about the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle. The results from our study underscore the importance of each person’s ability to improve their health through lifestyle changes even if they are dealing with multiple health issues and taking multiple prescription medications,” says lead author Neil Kelly, Ph.D., a medical student at Weill Cornell Medicine of Cornell University, in a media release.

‘A healthier lifestyle buys more time,’ not prescription meds

Study authors analyzed data from over 20,000 people (56% women with average age of 64). The results reveals 44 percent take four or less prescription medications. Meanwhile, 39 percent take five to nine medications and 17 percent take 10 or more prescription medications. The team also examined each person’s lifestyle across four distinct health categories: physical activity, smoking habits, sedentary time, and adherence to a Mediterranean diet. These eating habits include low levels of dairy, lots of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and fish.

The study did not focus on one particular variety of medication taken by the patients. Participants reported taking a wide variety of prescriptions to treat a number of different health issues or diseases.

After waiting a full decade, researchers checked in on participants again to examine death rates and health outcomes. They discovered that a healthy lifestyle significantly lowers risk of death, regardless of how many medications a person takes. The more healthy lifestyle factors a person engaged in regularly, the lower their risk of death.

“It’s especially important for health care professionals to counsel patients and develop interventions that can maximize healthy lifestyle behaviors, even among patients with several prescription medications,” Kelly adds. “It’s important for the public to understand that there is never a bad time to adopt healthy behaviors. These can range from eating a healthier diet to taking a daily walk in their neighborhood. A healthier lifestyle buys more time.”

This research is set to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2020.