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Episode 17: When Medications and Exercise Mix: New Findings You Should Know

Video Highlights

Cholesterol-lowering medications have been studied to observe their effect on exercise and physical performance.
Participants in a study who took statin drugs experienced diminished measured performance as compared to exercisers who had not taken the drug.

Hi, everybody. Dr. Eric Cobb back with you again this week.

I have something that’s on my mind.

I have a little bit of a concern this week and it’s based on a study that just came out that I want to share with you.

This is not intended to point at the specific medication that’s involved in the study, but to basically remind us that the human body is very complex.

While it seems like there are lots and lots of experts out there about how the brain works and how the body works and all of it is meshed together, the fact is that we’re still learning as we go. Medical science, while it is advancing incredibly quickly, is only beginning to scratch the surface in all the different complexities of how we’re built and how we perform.

Let me give you the story here. Just a couple of weeks ago, a study was published and it looked at the impact of certain medications on exercise. The medication that was in question is one that I have a big interest in because I have seen issues with it over many years in working with different clients.

It’s actually testing the impact of a statin drug. If you’re not familiar with statins, in this particular case it was a generic version of a drug called Zocor. Statin drugs are given to people who have been determined by their physicians to have cholesterol that’s too high or the ratios are messed up or whatever, because they’re trying to prevent a heart attack.

Whatever your belief systems are around cholesterol, I just want to talk about what came up in the study because it’s something that I want you to consider either for yourself based on your medication use and history, or secondly, about people that you know because I can virtually guarantee you that everyone knows someone that’s on one of these particular medications.

Here’s the story. What they did is they took two groups of people. They brought them in and they looked at them. The group that they included in this study were people that were, in essence, very normal Americans. They were a little bit overweight, they had a couple of different risk factors for what’s called metabolic syndrome – the beginnings of diabetes and heart disease.

What they did is they took them and split them into two groups and they had them exercise. They had one group that only exercised and the other group exercised plus took a fairly standard dosage of a statin drug.

The goal was to see if the statin drugs enhanced or hurt the effect of exercise. Remember, they’re trying to give people these cholesterol medications in order to prevent heart disease and premature death from heart attacks.

They broke them into two groups and had them exercise for 12 weeks – five times a week for about 45 minutes. It wasn’t super intense, it was either walking or low grade jogging on a treadmill. At the end of the 12 weeks, they went back and they tested them again.

Here’s where it gets really important to hear the results. The people that were only exercising, no drugs involved, actually had some really important improvements.

Their cardio respiratory fitness increased by about 10% and the markers that they were looking at within the cells, because you have these little things in your cells called mitochondria that are responsible for energy production, they found that the energy production capacity in the people that did just exercise alone went up by about 13%, so better fitness and better energy production at the cellular level.

Close up of pills on one side and workout weights on the other.

Then, they came to the group that did exercise and took the statin drug. This group did not get good results. In fact, their cardio respiratory fitness went up only about 1% – 1% vs. 10% in the exercise only group. In fact, some people in this group actually lost fitness. Then, when they looked at the enzyme related to the energy production in the cells, remember, the exercise only group went up about 13%. On average, the people that were taking the medication and exercising actually LOST 4.5%.

This isn’t just a small concern. This is a big concern for all of us. Because as I’ve tried to point out, we don’t yet know really the impact of different medications on our health and our fitness pursuits.

What I want you to take away from this, number one is, if you are on a statin drug or someone in your family is and you’re exercising and you don’t feel like you’re getting the benefits of exercise, you may want to speak to your doctor about it. I would never tell anyone, if I don’t know you and I’ve never worked for you, I would never tell anyone to change medication without speaking to their physician. That’s their job to both prescribe and help you monitor your response to medication.

However, the other part of this is – it’s your body. If we look at it statistically, statin drugs in general seem to decrease heart attacks in people by about 20%. Contrast this to the fact that even small improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness can help decrease heart attacks up to 50%!

The question becomes, what can you do in your lifestyle and what can you do in cooperation with your health care providers?

At the end of the day, you have to realize that everything you put into your body, whether it’s food which is really the biggest drug that we take, or what you drink, or what your physician has given you or the vitamins that you take from the health food store, whatever it is, they all have potential impacts. We’re just learning what those are.

You have to be your own scientist and really pay attention to how the different things you do impact you? Ask yourself, how does it impact my energy? How does it impact my fitness? Do I notice differences? Am I more fatigued, less fatigued?

If you can think back in your history and pay attention, and write it down, you can have much better discussions with those people who are involved in your health and fitness pursuits and your medical care.

So, that’s my encouragement for you this week. Pay close attention to this kind of information because it’s your body and your health. I really want you to take the next step of being in charge and paying attention.

I hope this is encouraging and useful for you.

Please feel free to share this one around because I think it’s very important information.

Thanks, I hope that you have a fantastic week.

I look forward to talking to you again soon.

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