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Interpreting Health History: How Drugs Affect Your Clients’ Training and Performance

As a responsible fitness professional, you understand the importance of conducting a thorough health screening before taking on a new client or participant. That being said, most of us have no formal training in medicine or pharmacology, so interpreting the information provided on a Health History Questionnaire can pose a challenge.

One area in particular that tends to be overlooked is the medications section of the questionnaire. It is easy to assume that since the drugs our clients take have been prescribed by a physician, they are safe and will not affect our programming. However, many common and popular medications have serious side effects that can undermine performance and pose safety risks. In some cases, they may cause weight gain, or make it difficult for your client to lose weight.

Common Drugs that Affect Training

Following is only a partial list of the most popular medications prescribed for metabolic disorders, birth control, depression and other common conditions.

  • Paroxetine (Paxil): Used to treat depression and anxiety disorders, this medication can cause weight gain, or can interfere with your client’s ability to lose weight. 
  • Metoprolol and other beta blockers: Commonly prescribed for high blood pressure and heart disease, beta blockers suppress adrenaline receptors, slowing heart rate and reducing exercise tolerance. Beta blockers can cause weight gain.
  • Clenbuterol and Corticosteroid inhalants: Clenbuterol is a bronchodilator that has properties similar to adrenaline, It revs up basal metabolic rate and increases aerobic capacity, but it can also cause anxiety and insomnia, and may initiate a heart attack. Inhaled corticosteroids for asthma are known to cause weight gain. 
  • Anti-allergens like Zyrtec and Allegra: Used to treat seasonal allergies, they tend to stimulate appetite, and can therefore cause weight gain. Your client may not list these meds because they can be bought without a prescription. If your client can’t lose weight, ask if they are taking allergy meds. 
  • The Depo shot (medroxyprogesterone acetate): A convenient form of birth control, substantial weight gain is a common side effect. 
  • Statins like Lipitor: Statins are often prescribed for high cholesterol. They are known to increase muscle soreness and reduce performance. Recent research reveals that statins can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, promote premature aging, and increase muscle pain. Statins have been linked to rhabdomyolysis during intense exercise, a condition where muscle cells break down and release myoglobin into your system, which in turn can cause kidney failure and death. 
  • NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs): These over-the-counter analgesics, including ibuprofen and naproxen, are probably the most common meds taken by gym goers. They should not be taken longer that three days in a row, but many people take them daily for months or even years. They can be harmful to the liver, kidneys, and GI tract, and can increase the risk of heart attack. 

The Trainer’s Responsibility

When reviewing your client’s health history, take special note of listed meds. Go online and research their side effects, and take them into consideration when programming. Educate your clients about the risks, and encourage lifestyle changes that address their condition. Never tell your client to stop taking prescription meds; it can make you legally liable for any negative consequences. However, you can encourage your client to discuss concerns about side effects with their health care provider. 

Resources

To build a successful fitness career, increasing your knowledge about health issues is a must. You cannot help your clients if you do not understand their medical conditions, and how drugs affect their performance. As always, W.I.T.S. has valuable resources to help you grow. Consider a certification in Older Adult Fitness, or get continuing education credits with Essentials of Diabetes and Prediabetes, Introduction to Cardiovascular Disease and Exercise, or any of our other MFEF courses.

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