Senior man exercising

What’s the Second-Best Drug on the Planet?

Most people understand that living a healthy lifestyle is important. We all too often, however, resort to medicines and drugs to help deal with a range of physical and mental health issues without truly realising that the second-best drug on the planet is within easy reach of all of us. 

Of course, we’re talking about exercise. There is now significant research evidence that taking regular exercise each week reduces our risk of developing major health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. 

There’s also evidence that people who exercise regularly are likely to be at less risk of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia in later life. Regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing hypertension and has been shown to almost halve the risk of getting a condition such as osteoporosis in later life.

Recent research out of the University of Copenhagen, however, suggests that taking many common pharmaceutical drugs, some of which are easily available over the counter without prescription, may inhibit the effectiveness of regular exercise. This in turn could have a significant impact on how many of us look at health and wellbeing in the future.

How Much Exercise Should We Undertake?

According to the CDC, we should be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week or 75 minutes of intense activity. Children and adolescents should be getting at least 60 minutes of activity every day. 

Exercise doesn’t always mean hitting the gym, though many people around the US do this regularly. Regular brisk walks can be effective, realising numerous health benefits for the individual. 

The prevalence of obesity in the USA is just over 42% and is a growing epidemic. According to the statistics, just under 20% of the population was involved in daily sports and exercise in 2018.

Common Drugs that Block the Benefits of Exercise

If you’ve spent hours in the gym lifting weights or jogging in the park, you may think that you’re doing your bit to stay fit. New research, however, has suggested that several common drugs such as antihistamines can significantly dampen the benefits that we get from regular exercise. 

The research by the University of Copenhagen appeared in the Journal of Science Advances and looked at antihistamine products and their impact on exercise effectiveness. Although the number of participants was relatively small, the results may raise alarm bells in people who regularly take these drugs to relieve allergies or cure a stomach upset.

What Are Antihistamines?

These drugs block or inhibit histamines in the body and are widely used to treat allergies such as hayfever, motion sickness and control acid indigestion. There are two different types of product on the market at the moment:

  • H1 blockers that are used to treat allergies. The most common in the USA are brand names such as Allergy Relief and Chlo-Amine. 
  • H2 blockers are used to control stomach acids. The most common types in the USA are Axid and Pepcid. 

Both work by blocking certain receptors (H1 and H2) in the body to provide relief. As with any medication, they have certain side effects. The study by the University of Copenhagen took 24 participants and gave them antihistamines before a 40-minute exercise session on a stationary bike. 

The research took place over 6 weeks and it found that taking the drug meant individuals showed little improvement in either exercise efficiency or blood flow compared to those who did not take the antihistamine.

Drugs That Come With Health Risks

These are not the only drugs that can have an impact other than that medically intended, especially when taken regularly. PPIs are widely used in the USA to treat stomach ulcers and products include brands such as Nexium and Somac. 

Studies, however, show that these have some fairly serious side effects including increased vascular risk. 

One study demonstrated that long term use of the drug was likely to double a person’s risk of a heart attack. There is also evidence that people who use PPIs have a greater risk of developing a condition such as Alzheimer’s. On top of that, there is an additional danger of osteoporosis and kidney disease with long term use. 

We must understand how certain drugs affect the body and what the long term implications are. Exercise is essential in maintaining a healthy body and mind but all the exertion we put in can be tempered if we’re regularly taking over the counter medicines such as antihistamines.

The content above is based on the information featured here:

The author of that article is Dr Ross Walker, one of Australia’s most esteemed cardiologists and a member of the Miskawaan Medical Advisory board.