Fitness professionals work with a wide range of people. From people who’ve been exercising for years, to those who are just taking their first steps in their fitness journey.
Many of your clients may come to you because they’ve been told to exercise by a medical professional and know that their medical condition can be helped by exercise. Some of these clients may also require the use of medication to manage that condition.
Some medications can influence the type and amount of exercise a client can perform, and it is an instructor’s responsibility to have an idea of the potential impact.
In this blog, we’re going to discuss the importance of knowing what medications your clients take, common side effects, common medications, and how to offer the best advice for your clients on medications.
Benefits of Exercise
Exercise, we all know it’s good for us, but what does it do that makes it so beneficial? Well, regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of many debilitating chronic illnesses such as stroke, coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, and cancer. Regular exercise has also been shown to reduce the risk of early death (by up to 30%!). In addition to the physical benefits, exercise is also linked to many mental benefits. This includes reduced risk of depression, stress, dementia, and Alzheimer’s diseases, along with positive self-esteem, mood, increased energy, and better sleep. Regardless of age, exercise provides a lot of benefits.
We’ve established exercise is incredibly good for us and reduces the risk of many adverse health conditions. In many cases, exercise can reduce the need for medication as part of a healthy balanced lifestyle. Exercise can mimic the same benefits of certain medications too so where possible, we want people to try and become more active as the first line of treatment.
Prevalence of Medications
People are living longer. Alongside people living longer, people with adverse chronic diseases are also increasing. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, by 2030 approximately 70 million people will be at least 65 years old. 80% of people over the age of 65 have at least one adverse chronic health condition. 50% of people over the age of 65 have two. There are two primary interventions to health adverse chronic health conditions; lifestyle and medications. Given the “quick fix” nature we live in, medications are incredibly prominent, especially if you’re training older clients.
With this knowledge, it’s important to recognise if your clients are on medication and how that might impact their training regime and the advice you give them. Before training clients, it’s important to ask if they’re taking medications, what medications they’re taking, and their dose/frequency. Please note that talking about medications can be a sensitive area. Many clients might not want to openly talk about their health conditions out of fear of judgement and embarrassment. When approaching this subject, do so carefully and remind your client it’s for their safety and effectiveness if you’re aware of the medications they’re taking.
Common Side Effects of Medications
According to the FDA, there are over 20,000 prescription drugs approved for marketing. It is outside of the scope of this blog to discuss individual medications in detail, instead, we’re going to cover the common side effects of medications and what this means for exercise programming (Look at our Medication Refresher CPD training for more medication-specific details). It’s also important to note that the risk of these side effects can range from mild to major restrictions on exercise programming. While medications could negatively impact a training programme, they are required for improving the life of your client and therefore the aim is to control and minimise any adverse effects of the medication so the client feels confident and happy to start and continue exercising long-term.
Drowsiness and Dizziness
“Don’t drive tired”, we’re told feeling sleepy behind the wheel can put us at an increased risk of causing fatal injury to ourselves or others. It’s the same for exercise. If your client’s medication is making them feel drowsy or dizzy, they’re probably not in an optimal cognitive state to perform the exercise safely. Firstly, determine whether it would be safe to continue with an exercise programme and if you continue, choose exercises which pose a lower risk to the client i.e. using the stationary bike, other forms of simple cardio-based activity and choosing light weights or resistance bands when strength training to minimise the risk of injury if their form is compromised due to drowsiness or dizziness.
Increased Pain Tolerance
Certain drugs mask the effects of pain. As a result, there is an increased risk for clients to overdo it without realising and potentially injure themselves or exacerbate other condition-related symptoms such as pain. If clients are taking medications that mask pain, keep a close eye on intensity levels throughout the session and moderate load accordingly.
Postural hypotension is a form of low blood pressure that occurs when standing after sitting or lying down. If postural hypotension is a side effect of your client’s medication, focus on simplifying movements and taking things nice and slow. Choose movements that don’t require sudden changes in movement, allow for sufficient rest between exercises, and keep clients hydrated throughout the session.
GI distress is a common barrier to exercise for a lot of people. Many clients are embarrassed or afraid of working out with GI problems. Reassure them it’s okay and that you’ll take things easy throughout the session. If symptoms are particularly bad, put most of your focus into controlling the intensity of the exercise. Keep intensity low, rest periods long, and avoid strenuous exercises such as HIT or heavy lifting.
Medications are common in the modern world. Whilst we want to support clients to reduce the need for being prescribed medication by leading a healthy, active lifestyle, they do have an important role in managing chronic health conditions. As instructors, it is important to be educated on the impact that certain medications may have on exercise participation as well as being aware of how to research medications from reputable websites. If your clients are on medication speak to them about any potential side effects and plan or adapt their exercise programme accordingly.
If you’d like to go deeper into this topic for revision then you can access the medication refresher bundle.