Lifestyle changes and your long-term medication

An older woman uses a pair of dumbbells to work out at home.

For many of us, the new year is great motivation to jumpstart healthy lifestyle changes like improving your diet or starting a new exercise routine. If you take medications for chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or depression, it’s important to be mindful of how these lifestyle changes may affect your current medications and vice versa.

Lifestyle change: Healthy eating

Eating healthier can help you manage a number of chronic conditions, including heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. That being said, nutrition is not one-size-fits-all. What you eat and how much you eat can have an impact on how well your medication works to treat your current condition.

Diet and your medications

According to MyPlate, a healthy diet is one that includes a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, seafood, eggs, legumes, and low-fat dairy, while avoiding highly processed foods, foods high in saturated fat, or foods high in sodium.

However, consuming some of these recommended foods, such as grapefruit, low-fat dairy, or dark leafy greens, may interfere with the effectiveness of your medications, causing them to not work as well or stay in your system longer. Reach out to your pharmacist to understand if any of your medications have these interactions.

Weight loss and medications

Losing weight by eating healthier or by consuming fewer calories can improve conditions like heart disease and diabetes. It could also have an effect on your medication dosage.

“Most often with weight loss, the dose of a patient’s medication has to be adjusted downward,” said Christina Wilson-Smith, a registered pharmacist with Express Scripts® Pharmacy. “The most common medications that require dosage modification or discontinuation are insulin or oral diabetic medications, blood pressure medications, and cholesterol medications.”

This is even the case if you lose as little as 5 to 10 pounds. If you’re taking medication to treat diabetes or hypertension, your doctor may require you to monitor your blood pressure and glucose levels at home until they stabilize in order to accurately determine your new dose.

Before making a change to your diet, speak with your doctor and pharmacist about how those nutrition changes might interact with your medications. Our pharmacists can advise you on how to incorporate a healthy diet into your life without negatively affecting your current health condition, and they can even reach out to your doctor on your behalf to find out if you need to adjust your medication dosage.

Lifestyle change: Exercise

Moving more and getting daily exercise can improve brain and heart health, strengthen bones and muscles, improve sleep, reduce depression and anxiety, and help you lose weight. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (e.g., brisk walking, biking, water aerobics, dancing) a week. However, there are a few things to consider before starting a new fitness routine.

Will the side effects of my medication affect my exercise routine?

Some medications like anti-anxiety or allergy drugs can cause excessive sweating and make it easier to overheat and get dehydrated. Other medications, like beta-blockers, can alter your resting and max heart rate. Certain drugs can affect exercise stamina, performance, and recovery. Insulin therapy, particularly short-acting insulin injections prior to exercising, can cause dizziness, blurred vision, and weakness that may put you at risk of a fall or accident.

If you have a chronic condition, talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about your current medications so you can figure out the type and amount of physical activity that’s right for you.

Will exercising affect how well my medications work?

“Exercise can increase the absorption of certain medications,” said Wilson-Smith. “For instance, during exercise, the blood flow will increase to the actively exercised tissue, causing increased drug absorption. If a patient is using insulin injected into the thigh, it will increase the absorption of insulin and cause the patient’s blood glucose to decrease at a more rapid rate.”

The ultimate effect of your medication depends on the type of exercise you’re doing, the duration, and intensity. Wilson-Smith recommends starting slow and talking with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine.

Lifestyle change: Quitting smoking

Another common healthy lifestyle change is quitting smoking. Doing so lowers your risk for 12 different types of cancer, heart disease, and COPD. Just keep in mind that there are compounds in cigarette smoke that increase the metabolism of many commonly prescribed medications. To account for the change, your doctor or pharmacist may need to adjust your medication dosage.

The best way to stay on track with your medications when you’re making healthy lifestyle changes is to plan for success. At Express Scripts® Pharmacy, our pharmacists are here to help you every step of the way. They’re available 24/7 to answer your questions and give you the information you need to help you reach and maintain your health goals.

Posted date: January 21, 2022

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