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Running On Pills… Danger, Will Robinson!

Running On Pills… Danger, Will Robinson!

The list of prescription drugs in the USA is pretty exhaustive – and combining many of them with running or any form of exercise in the heat can be a bad idea.

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For instance, Zyprexa, a popular anti-psychotic, lists that you should “Avoid becoming overheated or dehydrated. Drink plenty of fluids, especially in hot weather and during exercise. It is easier to become dangerously overheated and dehydrated while you are taking Zyprexa.”

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To understand why certain drugs can cause problems for hot weather athletes, you first have to understand that exercising in heat has two key demands on the body. First, it requires extra skin cooling, which is achieved by sending more blood to the skin. Second, it requires extra blood to the muscles as they work harder. See this post for more information.

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There are usually three reasons why a drug interaction can cause this kind of problem:

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1. If the drug depletes the brain’s ability to send messages about the overheating to the body, so the skin is not cooled the way it needs to be.

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2. If the drug actually causes overheating by decreasing sweating.

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3. If the drug reduces your ability to gauge your own tolerances and therefore clouds your judgment.

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In the first category are several kinds of drugs: the aforementioned Zyprexa and other drugs that treat depression, bipolar disease, schizophrenia etc (read that label!) sometimes block signals from the brain that tell the heart to work harder to cool the skin and increase blood flow to the muscles. Of course, drugs that play with your waste system such as Imodium or prostrate drugs can also have a profound effect on the body’s willingness to sweat and cool itself.

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In the second category you’ll find things like stimulants and decongestants (pseudoephedrine, for example, found in Sudafed, Claritin, Zyrtec and many other drugs that you can buy over the counter) and these are particularly troublesome because they’re so commonly taken.

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Obviously, in the third category you’ll find alcohol and illegal substances that impair judgement, but also sedatives and painkillers like Oxycodone and Morphine.

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In each case, the damage can be severe and even fatal. From personal experience I can attest to the fact that when taking certain cold medications, my sauna tolerance absolutely plummets from over an hour to perhaps twenty minutes. Luckily I can get out in a few seconds, but if you’re out on the trail it can be a different story.

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For hot weather athletes, checking the label before preparing for a run or a bike ride is of key importance. Don’t get caught out!

Jon Rice
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Jon Rice

Jon is a highly-experienced runner who adopted the sport of heat running in 1996. He visits Death Valley every year to participate in his bizarre creation, The Darth Valley Challenge - a one-mile charge through the desert in the height of summer, dressed as Darth Vader.

To prepare for such silliness he takes extraordinary precautions. He trains year-round in the sauna, runs countless miles in extreme temperatures, and has crewed the Badwater Ultramarathon twice.

Jon's only request as you read this site is that you prepare carefully, tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back, and take more water than you think you'll need.
Jon Rice
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One comment

  1. I don’t think anyone on Zyprexa is going to be running much past the first year, as that drug causes rapid and unnatural weight gain. Average is 25 pounds per year or often, much more. Often such dangerous weight gain causes immense stress on the joints, especially the knees. The drug maker was deceptive about the severity of the weight gain. Even doctors didn’t know due to drug company distortion of the truth. Stay away if you care about your body.

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