ASHP InterSections ASHP InterSections

February 18, 2020

Active Pharmacists Use Exercise to Boost Health and Well-Being

Abhay Patel, Pharm.D., M.S., R.Ph.

AFTER FOUR MONTHS OF TRAINING for a half marathon, Abhay Patel, Pharm.D., M.S., R.Ph., Pharmacy Manager for Ambulatory Services at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, was amazed by not only improvements in his endurance and strength, but also by how his attitude about his work had changed. “Things that used to be a source of stress did not seem as stressful anymore,” he said.

Benefits of Exercise

As Dr. Patel and other pharmacists are finding out, staying fit can yield a multitude of rewards, from bolstering mental resilience to reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Staying fit through regular exercise is also one way individuals can address the problem of burnout, which over 50% of pharmacists in acute and ambulatory care settings experience.

The benefits of a fitness regimen became clear to Dr. Patel after he finished a short jog in the park near his home in the summer of 2015, during his PGY-2 residency. “At the end of that day, I looked back and realized I had accomplished even more than I normally did on a day without any deliberate physical activity,” recalled Dr. Patel, an ASHP member since 2011.

Fitness Journey

That realization left him wanting to exercise more. After completing residency and starting his job, he began to integrate short bike rides after work, weightlifting at his local fitness center, and taking advantage of his workplace’s wellness services. “I started by squeezing whatever I could into my day, and that laid the groundwork for establishing a more targeted, consistent routine,” he said.

As it turned out, squeezing in those bits of exercise yielded additional benefits. “My demeanor began to change positively, I had more energy, I was more focused on the tasks I was doing, and I felt better about myself and about the care I was providing, as well as my role as a team leader,” said Dr. Patel.

Exercising is not a panacea, he admitted, and his days include “all of the same highs and lows that I had before,” but his ability to manage these fluctuations has improved. There have been important changes in his perspective on work and life, Dr. Patel added. “It’s clearer to me that professionally and personally, it is not just about the pursuit of the finish line, but about pursuing progress instead,” he said. “It truly is a marathon, not a sprint, and about appreciating the journey.”

Yoga Unites Mind and Body

Jogs and gym visits are two ways to stay fit, but exercise can take other forms, as Christina Martin, Pharm.D., M.S., CAE, ASHP’s Director, New Practitioners Forum, has shown.

Christina Martin, Pharm.D., M.S., CAE

Dr. Martin started practicing yoga roughly seven years ago, an interest she developed when she began her first post-residency pharmacy supervisor position and fell into the trap of working too much. “Things went out of balance,” she said. “Yoga was something that I could commit to beyond work.” Over the years, Dr. Martin has learned to enjoy not only the physical aspects of yoga but also its inward, meditative focus.

“The Sanskrit word for yoga is ‘yuj,’ which means to control or to unite, and that is what my yoga practice has transformed into – controlling the noise from the outside world and uniting my mind, body, and soul,” said Dr. Martin. “One of my teachers regularly reminds us that coming to the yoga mat is an escape to our own private island.”

Yoga has also added another layer of meaning to her life, she said, as she recently completed a hot yoga teacher training program so that she can share her passion for the practice with others. The 200-hour training program included learning about human anatomy, how to address common ailments that yoga practitioners face, as well as studies in yogic breathing, nutrition, and chakra theory. A chakra is a center of spiritual power in Hindu thought.

“Being part of any community – including the yoga community – can be an antidote to the pervasive isolation and loneliness that we see in today’s society,” Dr. Martin said.

CrossFit Champ

A strong sense of community built around the goals of fitness is one reason Robert Weber, Pharm.D., M.S., FASHP, Chief Pharmacy Officer at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, has fallen in love with CrossFit, a high-intensity form of exercise.

Robert Weber, Pharm.D., M.S., FASHP

As Dr. Weber recalls, his journey toward developing a rigorous CrossFit regimen began after years of struggling with weight gain as well as complications from a colon cancer diagnosis in 2008 and chemotherapy and surgery that eradicated his cancer, but left him with neuropathic pain in his hands and feet.

“I was told that I should not and could not [do any vigorous exercise] because of the neuropathy and that walking with some light yoga was sufficient,” said Dr. Weber, an ASHP Fellow and member since 1980. He assumed his physicians were right, because at the time, “I wasn’t able to balance myself, jump, and do all the things that are part of exercising.”

With the neuropathic pain limiting his ability to exercise, Dr. Weber tried to stay healthy through a proper diet, but eight years of a sedentary lifestyle left him overweight, and in need of cardiovascular medications, he said.

“The turning point for me came when my brother died of cancer in 2017,” Dr. Weber recalled. “I was standing over his grave, and I said to myself, ‘I need to make a change and start exercising again and move the dial in terms of my overall health and wellness.’”

His daughter urged Dr. Weber, who is now 63, to take CrossFit classes. While the exercise leaves him feeling “tired and winded, once I’m done, I feel like a million bucks,” he said. Dr. Weber noted that he overcame the neuropathic pain in his feet by increasing the frequency and intensity of the exercises in “baby steps, and not pushing too hard at first.”

Today, as a result of regular exercise and proper nutrition, Dr. Weber is 42 pounds lighter and has been able to discontinue most of his cardiovascular and neuropathic pain drugs. “I’m now more stable on my feet, more confident, and I make better decisions at work,” he added.

For those in his age group interested in starting an exercise regimen, Dr. Weber cautioned first to get a physician’s approval and also to start at a low intensity. He noted that a personal trainer or coach has the expertise to design a safe exercise program customized to your needs. This is important because performing too many repetitions too early can cause cardiac stress, he said, and lifting too much weight initially can lead to several days of discomfort and possibly serious injury.

“Particularly at my age, it can be frustrating if you start an exercise program and get stiff and sore for a few days,” said Dr. Weber. “I’ve seen many people my age quit after a brief time because they can’t tolerate the soreness that follows exercising.”

With those caveats in mind, Dr. Weber believes that almost anyone of any age can build an exercise regimen that works for them and reap the benefits. “You can do anything you set your mind to do,” he said.


By David Wild


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January 27, 2020

Pharmacists use Running to Improve their Mental and Physical Health

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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