Concerta (methylphenidate) is a stimulant medication prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adults. It speeds heart rate and respiration while increasing levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Because it can raise blood pressure and heart rate, Concerta may cause adverse health effects when combined with the physical stress brought on by vigorous exercise.
There are many different types of exercise, each having unique effects on the body. Aerobic (“cardio”), weight-bearing and stretching exercise are the main categories into which most physical activities fall.
Aerobic exercises like running and brisk walking primarily work the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, while weight-bearing exercises strengthen muscles. Stretching exercises like yoga and Pilates are designed to tone muscles while improving breathing and flexibility. Workouts consisting of all three types of exercise are recommended for optimal physical fitness.
Exercise is needed to keep the body fit and strong. Lack of physical activity is a major contributing factor for obesity, which increases the risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and many other health conditions.
Stimulants like Concerta, ephedrine and amphetamines are sometimes used as performance-enhancers by athletes. According to the National Institutes of Health, stimulants significantly increase anaerobic capacity and knee extension strength while decreasing pain and fatigue during physical activity, making it possible to train more intensely for longer periods of time. The use of stimulants like Concerta is viewed as an unfair advantage by many sports organizations and is banned in most professional sports.
According to the National Institutes of Health, methylphenidate--the active ingredient in Concerta--can cause hypertension, hyperthermia and irregular heart beat. It increases metabolic rate, which often results in increased sweating. In combination with factors like high temperatures and strenuous exercise, Concerta may increase the risk for heat stroke and dehydration. Concerta also decreases pain perception while exercising, making it harder to tell when the body has reached its physical limits.
Baseball player Steve Bechler and cyclist Tom Simpson are tragic examples of the dangers of combining stimulants with exercise. Both men died as a result of dehydration and hyperthermia triggered by intense physical exertion and stimulant use. While neither athlete was taking Concerta at the time of death, the substances they were using (ephedra and amphetamine, respectively) belong to the same class of drugs as Concerta and are known to cause similar effects.
Patients taking Concerta to treat ADHD and other disorders should use caution when performing strenuous physical activities. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and avoid exercising in extremely hot conditions. Warm up and cool down properly before and after exercise, and avoid exercises like weight lifting immediately after taking Concerta. Gentle stretching exercises like yoga may be less likely to cause cardiovascular distress than high-intensity aerobic or weight-lifting workouts.
The FDA considers Concerta a safe and effective medication for treating ADHD in patients ages 6 to 65. Concerta is unlikely to cause serious cardiovascular problems when taken by healthy patients for whom it was prescribed. Underlying heart conditions, inadequate fluid intake and concurrent use of other stimulants like caffeine may increase the risk for adverse effects while taking Concerta.