At your annual physical, you learn that your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar is starting to creep upwards, which increases your risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and a whole slew of other health problems. When your doctor takes out her prescription pad, you expect her to prescribe the latest drug.  Instead, much to your surprise, the Rx reads, “Get at least 30 minutes of moderate to intensive aerobic activity every day—and move around as much as possible!”

Sounds far fetched? Only if you’re unaware of the preponderance of studies that confirms the powerful health benefits of exercise. Thousands of studies have already documented the fact that people who are the most active are the least likely to develop heart disease, become obese or diabetic, or be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease later in life. And it doesn’t take that much exercise to feel the benefits. A study published last fall in PLOS Medicine found that 75 minutes of brisk walking per week could increase your lifespan by an average of 1.8 years.  Not bad for an investment of a little more than two minutes a day!

A new study published in the October 1, 2013 British Medical Journal shows that exercise is as effective—in some cases, even better—for preventing second heart attacks and stroke as commonly prescribed medications. In this study, researchers at the London School of Economics, Harvard Medical School and the Stanford University School of Medicine analyzed the results of 305 randomized controlled trials involving 339,274 people. They found virtually no difference between exercise and drug interventions for the prevention of second heart attacks and stroke.

What’s notable is that this study was done at all. Most drug studies match the efficacy of one medication against another. Rarely do drug trials compare medication against lifestyle interventions like exercise.  The authors of this study contend that more studies like this are needed, but note that exercise “should be considered as a viable alternative, or alongside, drug therapy.”

If you have a pre-existing condition, you should talk to your physician before embarking on an exercise regimen. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a problem or not, tapping therapeutic power of exercise can extend—if not save—your life.