How Blood Pressure Medication Affects Your Running

Middle-of-the-pack marathon runners
Middle-of-the-pack marathon runners
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It’s a popular misconception that being a regular runner can get high blood pressure down into the normal range. Certainly it can help by keeping you at a favorable weight, but most experts agree that exercise alone can only drop the blood pressure 10 or so mm Hg in most people. If you are genetically programmed for high blood pressure, this alone may not be enough to do the trick.

I didn’t realize this. When my doctor told me I had hypertension I said, “But doc, that can’t be; I run almost every day and at least one marathon a year.”

He said, “You have been misinformed, my friend. That kind of exercise can help but it’s not a panacea. If it is in your genes, it’s in your genes. Wer’e going to try medication.

Lisinopril is My Hypertension Drug

Lisinopril tablet, 40 Mg
Lisinopril tablet, 40 Mg

There are many high blood pressure drugs on the market. Many of these are now generic which is a good thing because once you are on them, you are likely on them for the long haul and generic-ness reduces the cost. Since it is generic, you might have also heard the brand names Zestril, Prinivil, and Qbrelis. Same stuff, different Big Pharma company.

Different meds may work differently. This one is classified as an ACE inhibitor. It does its deed by reducing the production of angiotensin II, which relaxes arterial muscles and enlarging arteries. When your blood pressure lowers, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood.

 The arteries supplying your heart with blood also enlarge while being treated with ACE inhibitors. This increases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart which further improves the ability of your heart to pump blood.

How Lisinopril Affects My Running

Beginning this treatment was a tough pill to swallow (excuse the pun). One of the side effects is a persistent cough which I’ve gotten used to but during races or on the trails I get some odd looks like, are you contagious with something?

It also makes me lethargic all day which translates to a slower pace. Well, that excuse certainly takes the pressure off, doesn’t it? Also, larger, more flexible arteries make for more more blood flow making for a lower heart rate. This is fine for a run of three miles or less but over that it’s not good — once I stop.

I found out just how bad this could be after doing a 10K in the Texas Bridge Series. It was a hot day and I felt fine while running. But a couple of minutes after the (thank God) finish line I was standing in line for food and something cold to slug down.

I began to feel really woozy. Not sick, not nauseous, just light-headed. My vision began to go in and out. It was just the amount and rate of blood still pumping while my muscles had stopped crying out for all that oxygen-toting flow. I see it as meds being an artificial way to regulate the body they just don’t allow adjustment as quickly as “normal” feedback. But I held my place in line and after sitting on the grass and chowing down for about 15 minutes I was OK again. Lesson learned? I now take my meds after a workout, not before. And immediately following a run I walk for up to a mile instead of just standing still as part of my running recovery routine.

Other Blood Pressure Meds Side Effects

Besides the cough and feeling lethargic, I also get these odd but unimportant fleeting back pain. After even a short run my shoulders feel tired and a bit sore. Some people develop headaches, insomnia, anxiety,  and nasal congestion. I have been spared those but chalk it up to still running, recovering, and stretching. Almost every freakin’ day.

So am I happy with how blood pressure medication affects my running? No, not at all. But as my doctor told me, “Young man, it beats the hell out of having a stroke or a cardiac event.” My BP yesterday was 91/67. Maybe too low.


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