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Pharmacists use Running to Improve their Mental and Physical Health

Jan 27, 2020

Juan Hincapie-Castillo, Pharm.D., completes a half marathon.

THROUGHOUT HIGH SCHOOL and college, and into pharmacy school, Juan Hincapie-Castillo, Pharm.D., Ph.D., M.S., said he never did any physical activity. Instead, he spent his time studying, developing poor eating habits, and loading up on caffeine. Then, during Dr. Hincapie-Castillo’s third year of pharmacy school, his father passed away from a fatal heart attack at age 50. It was just the wake-up call he needed to make a change.

Running relieves stress

Dr. Hincapie-Castillo signed up for a half-marathon, giving himself a year to train. He joined a local gym and began jogging and walking on the treadmill for 15 minutes. Once he had enough endurance to run for an hour, he joined a local running club. His first outdoor run with them was for four miles, and he was so fearful of getting lost that he forced himself to run faster to keep up with the others. A few months later, he ran his first race, a 7K. The next spring, he completed his targeted half-marathon in under two hours.

Then, he said, “I got the bug.” Today he’s into ultrarunning, defined as anything more than a 26.2-mile marathon. He completed a 50-mile race in just under 11 hours and is now training for his first 100-mile race.

An assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy in Gainesville, Dr. Hincapie-Castillo spends most of his time doing outcomes research, sitting at a computer, writing grants, or in meetings. Running, he said, “really helps with stress relief and overall health. It’s very mental. It’s a time to get away, get a break, and it helps me get in the zone.” He is currently establishing a running group for pharmacy students.

Great way to make friends

Kim Benner, Pharm.D., after finishing the Chicago Marathon in 2019.

Dr. Hincapie-Castillo isn’t the only pharmacist to reap the benefits of running. Kim Benner, Pharm.D., BCPS, FASHP, FPPA, a professor of pharmacy practice at Samford University in Birmingham, AL, and a pediatric clinical specialist at Children’s of Alabama, started running over a decade ago as a means to help lose weight after the birth of her second child. It’s helped her in numerous ways.

“There’s a physical benefit obviously,” said Dr. Benner, a member of ASHP for over 20 years. “It keeps the weight down, it’s good for bone strength, and my heart rate and blood pressure are super low. It’s great spiritually, and has given me a lot of time to reflect on the beauty around us.” Moreover, it’s helped her socially. She estimates that about 75 percent of her friends are people she has met through a running club.

Five to six mornings a week, Dr. Benner meets the group for 5:30 a.m. runs. During the week, they might go four to eight miles, while on weekends they tackle eight to 20 miles for those training for a marathon. After the runs, they socialize during their cooldowns over coffee or sports drinks. She also has gone to group dinners and movies with her running friends and traveled with them to cities like Chicago to run marathons.

“I’m a morning person, and one of the reasons I like to run then is I feel like it keeps me more active, engaged, and alert at work because I’m not really a coffee drinker,” Dr. Benner said. “It naturally wakes me up and gets me ready to tackle the day to work with my team, take care of my patients, and teach.”

Dr. Benner also has met running friends through ASHP. They often meet early in the morning to run and then attend conferences together, or look for local races occurring in the cities where meetings are held. “Every time I travel to a pharmacy meeting, I look to see if there’s a race anywhere around, just so I can get my miles in,” she said. “It helps me sit through a longer meeting better.”

Positive impact on lifestyle

Lisa Padgett, Pharm.D., celebrates with her family after finishing a race.

For Lisa Padgett, Pharm.D., BCACP, of Raleigh, N.C., running has been a tool to help maintain high energy and a positive outlook in stressful situations. Three mornings a week, Dr. Padgett rises at 5 a.m. to run a 5K route through her neighborhood.

“Right now is the most challenging season for us,” said Dr. Padgett, an ASHP member since 2007, who works in a community pharmacy. “We have a vaccine that’s been on backorder, we’ve got flu shots coming in, and our script volume has increased consistently over the last few weeks. We’ve also been short-staffed, and had one of our key team members move to another state.”

There have been more than a few mornings when Dr. Padgett said work was the motivating factor that got her out of bed. “I see part of my role as not only to provide safe and effective prescription processing and patient counseling, but to maintain a certain level of positivity. I feel like exercise is key to that—I do it as much for me as for my team.”

Part of the reason Dr. Padgett took on her current job, which she started in January 2019, was to be more active. In a prior position, Dr. Padgett said her role was to coach people to help set goals and maintain healthy lifestyles. Meanwhile, she was spending most of her days sitting, either in the car on the way to various sites or in appointments and meetings. “I was doing exactly what I was telling them not to do,” she said. “I had a really hard time reconciling that.”

Running for beginners

Looking to get started running? The pharmacists provided the following tips:

  • Invest in good running shoes. Go to a true running store and have them fit you properly. “A lot of running stores will let you test shoes for up to a week, or run with them in the store or right outside in the parking lot,” Dr. Hincapie-Castillo said. “Don’t feel pressured to buy the most expensive ones, and always go a little bit bigger in size than your regular shoes.”
  • Find a running buddy or support community. “It’s a lot easier to get up at 4:30 in the morning when you know you have friends waiting on you,” Dr. Benner said.
  • Consider safety. If you run early or in the evenings, pick an area that has good lighting, and watch for cars, Dr. Benner advised. If you run alone, always tell someone where you’ll be.
  • Find your rhythm. Some people prefer running early in the morning before work, while others perform better at lunchtime or after work. Some runners like racing, while others enjoy the social aspect or mental breaks. “There’s no prescription for how to do it right,” Dr. Padgett said. “You have to figure out what works for you.”

By Karen Blum


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