Taking Statins May Make People Less Physically Active

People who take statin medications are less active than those not taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs, a study finds.

And that’s a problem, because lack of activity increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as other diseases. That’s just what the statins are supposed to prevent. So people may be canceling out the good work of the statins if they’re putting in more couch time.

Our first thought was that these people were taking it easy because hey, who needs to sweat when those statins are hard at work lowering cholesterol?

And that could be true, says David Lee, an assistant professor of pharmacy at Oregon Health Sciences University and lead author of the study, which was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. “Some people have suggested that statins are a magic pill,” Lee told Shots. “Maybe people take a statin and they feel like they don’t need to exercise anymore.”

This study looked at 3,039 older men, about half of whom were taking statin drugs at some point over seven years. It asked them to report on their level of physical activity twice during that time. It also had them wear an accelerometer similar to a FitBit to measure their activity for a week.

The differences were small, with the statin users engaged in about five minutes less of moderate physical activity daily and about eight minutes more of sedentary activity, also known as sitting around. Their activity levels dropped the most in the first year using statins.

Of course, people on statins may be less active because they have heart disease. But the researchers corrected for the effects of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure, and still found the statin takers to be less active.

One reason could be that the drug can cause muscle soreness and interfere with mitochondria, which are the energy centers in cells, the researchers note. That can make people more tired and make it harder to gain the benefits of exercise.

“There actually is an honest question on whether statins may affect fundamental aspects of life like being able to participate in activity,” Dr. Beatrice Golomb, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine who studies the side effects of statins, told Shots. “These are issues that bear being taken seriously, understanding better and not pushing under the carpet.”

That’s especially true as people age, Golomb says, because disability starts to outstrip heart disease as a leading cause of death. Staying strong and active keeps disability at bay, as well as reducing the risk of depression, cancer and other diseases. Golomb wrote a commentary on the study that was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“I don’t want to discourage people from taking statins,” Lee, a pharmacist, told Shots. “As far as cardiovascular health goes, blood pressure medications and statins are responsible for the biggest changes the past 20 years.”

But Lee also says; “I think the most important thing for older people is to be active.” Being aware that taking statins may make people less inclined to be active should be a wake-up call for people to try to reverse that trend, he says.

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