People pop pills for just about every condition these days, but multiple studies in recent years offer strong evidence that diet and exercise can be effective treatments for many ills.

In the April 2008 issue of the Harvard Health Letter, researchers highlight how to manage seven common conditions without taking medication. While no one should stop taking prescribed medication without talking to a doctor, the researchers write that with discipline, the nonpharmacological approach can do as much as pills in many cases.

From the publication:

Arthritis: There's a good chance that losing weight will make arthritis less painful. Combine weight loss with exercise and you may have less pain and more mobility. Even for those who don't need to lose weight, exercise that doesn't put "load" on the joints, such as swimming, reduces pain.

Cholesterol: Your LDL level may drop by about 5 percent if you avoid foods high in saturated fat. Additional soluble fiber may reduce LDL levels as well, as can can margarines fortified with sterols.

Cognitive decline: Memory training and other "brain exercises" seem to help healthy older people stay sharp. But physical exercise may benefit the brain more than mental gymnastics.

Depression: Regular physical activity can have a potent antidepressant effect.

Diabetes: Exercise is a powerful brake on blood sugar levels, because exercised muscle becomes more receptive to the insulin that helps it pull sugar in from the bloodstream. Eating fewer sweets and easy-to-digest carbohydrates also helps control blood sugar levels.

High blood pressure: Losing weight, getting more exercise, and eating less sodium all lower blood pressure.

Osteoporosis: Weight-bearing exercise puts stress on bones, and bone tissue reacts by getting stronger and denser, fending off osteoporotic processes. Extra vitamin D and calcium top the list of dietary recommendations.