100 Push-Ups (New Year's Resolution #1)

If you want to be able to do 100 pushups in a row, do not try to do as many pushups as possible every day. You'll probably injure yourself and end up unable to do any pushups at all. Training for competition requires an understanding of the stress-and-recover rule and the interval-sets rule.

The best way to improve any athletic skill is to stress your body on one day and then allow enough time for your body to recover before you stress it again. On one day, take a hard workout. On the next morning, your muscles feel sore. Take easy workouts until the soreness disappears and then take a hard workout again.

For your hard workouts, you can do far more work by exercising in sets, rather than continuously. If you can do six continuous pushups, you can probably do ten sets of two with twenty-second rests between each set. Do repeat sets of two until your muscles feel sore. Try to take workouts that are hard enough to make your muscles feel sore for no more than 48 hours. An ideal training program would consist of sets of three until you feel sore on the first day, take off the second day, do sets of five on the third day until you feel soreness, and rest on the fourth day. Repeat these four-day cycles, and you'll soon be ready to compete.

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Gain weight every year? You're not alone!

Most people become fatter with aging because they are less active, not because they eat more. Thirty minutes of exercise a day may be enough for heart fitness, but it is not usually enough to lose or maintain weight. Our grandparents doing heavy manual labor were active for 8, 10 or more hours every day. If you have a sedentary job, you need an exercise strategy that includes very vigorous exercise, more time spent in physical activity, or (preferably) both. Researchers from the University of South Carolina showed that the increase in body fat that accompanies aging can be completely prevented with prolonged vigorous exercise (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, August 2005.) The authors studied 60 thousand male runners and found that the more miles they ran, the thinner they remained. Waist circumference increased with age at all running distances, but the increase diminished in the men who ran further.

This tells us that you must increase your physical activity with age to prevent weight gain. Your chances for success will improve if you find an activity you enjoy enough to do it for several hours at a time, such as dancing, fast walking, rowing or cycling. Then make your sport a regular part of your social life, not just an exercise chore. (You'll get weekly tips in my free newsletter on fitness and health.)

Blood pressure drugs: which are best for exercisers?

Several studies show that the drugs of choice to treat high blood pressure for most North Americans are calcium channel blockers and angiotensin II receptor antagonists.

For many years the American Heart Association recommended beta blockers and diuretics as first-line treatment for people with high blood pressure. Beta blockers can cause impotence, tiredness at rest and during exercise, weight gain, and they increase risk for diabetes. Diuretics make you tired. Furthermore, a study from Sweden shows that beta blockers increase risk of strokes. There is no data to show they prevent heart attacks in healthy people.

To help you understand blood pressure, read
Systolic/diastolic (which is more important) and Why blood pressure rises with age

Other studies have recommended different combinations and the combination with the fewest side effects includes a calcium channel blocker and angiotensin II receptor antagonists. Long-acting calcium channel blockers relax blood vessels, while angiotensin II receptor antagonists block a blood vessel-constricting hormone released by the kidneys.

If you suffer from high blood pressure, go on the DASH diet and start an exercise program to help you lose weight. If that doesn't reduce your blood pressure to normal, I think that the drugs of choice are angiotensin II receptor antagonists. If your blood pressure is still high, add a calcium channel blocker.

BETA BLOCKERS: Betapace, Blocadren, Brevibloc, Cartrol, Inderal, Kerlone, Levatol, Lopressor, Sectral, Tenormin, Toprol, Zebeta.
CALCIUM CHANNEL BLOCKERS: Adalat, Calan, Cardizem, Covera, Dilacor, DynaCirc, Isoptin, Nimotop Norvasc, Plendil, Procardia, Sular, Tiazac, Vascor, Verelan
ALPHA BLOCKERS: Cardura, Dibenzyline, Hytrin, Minipres.

Lactic acid helps muscles

You exercise so intensely that your muscles burn and you gasp for breath. Then you slow down for a minute or two, catch your breath, and then go very fast again. This training technique has been used in all endurance sports since the 1920's. Now George Brooks of the University of California at Berkeley has shown why interval training makes you a better athlete (American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, June 2006).

Inside each muscle cell are mitochondria, the little furnaces that burn fuel for energy. A major fuel for your muscles during exercise is the sugar, glucose. In a series of chemical reactions, glucose is broken down step by step, with each step releasing energy. When enough oxygen is available, the glucose releases all of its energy until only carbon dioxide and water remain; these are blown off through your lungs. However, if not enough oxygen is available, the chemical reactions stop at lactic acid which accumulates in the muscles and spills over into the bloodstream. Lactic acid makes muscles acidic and causes a burning feeling. This recent research shows that lactic acid is the most efficient source of energy for muscles. Anything that helps muscles to break down lactic acid faster will make you a better athlete because it will increase your endurance and allow you to move faster when you are tired. More

Since lactic acid is burned for energy in the mitochondria, anything that enlarges the mitochondria builds a bigger furnace and helps to increase endurance. Lactic acid is carried from the cells into the mitochondria by special proteins called lactate transporter molecules, so anything that increases these molecules will build endurance. An enzyme called lactic acid dehydrogenase is needed to start the reaction, so anything that increases this enzyme will also help. Interval training does all three: it enlarges the furnace (mitochondria), increases lactic acid transporter molecules, and increases the amount of lactic acid dehydrogenase.

Interval Training

To become stronger and faster, athletes use a technique called interval training, in which they exercise very intensely, rest and then alternate intense bursts of exercise and rest until their muscles start to feel heavy. Intervals are a fixed number of repeats of a fixed distance at a fixed pace with a fixed recovery time. There are two types of intervals: long and short. A short interval takes less than 30 seconds and does not build up significant amounts of lactic acid in the bloodstream, so an athlete can do lots of repeat short intervals in a single workout.

Long intervals take two minutes or more and are very tiring. In interval training, a runner may run a quarter mile 12 times, averaging 1 minute, with a 110-yard slow jog between each. A weightlifter may lift a heavy weight ten times in a row and then repeat another set of ten. Runners run intervals as fast as they can and recover enough to run the same fast pace several times. Runners need very short recoveries between intervals, usually only about 30 seconds; but weight lifters need much longer recoveries, at least two and a half minutes. Runners become short of breath and feel a burning in their muscles when lactic acid starts to accumulate in muscles, but it takes only a few seconds for a trained athlete to recover between each hard run. On the other hand, weight lifters feel burning caused by tearing of the muscle fibers and it takes a much longer time for the pain to disappear so they can lift very heavy weights again.

You can apply the concept of interval training to your program at any level of fitness. When you start a new exercise program, exercise for 30 seconds, stop for 30-60 seconds, longer if you need it. Alternate exercising and resting until you feel tired or your muscles feel heavy. Then stop for the day. The stronger you get in your sport, the more intense your intervals can become. You work at your maximum capacity for 30-60 seconds, then take 60-90 seconds to recover, then go very hard for another 30-60 seconds. Do this vigorous interval workout once a week until you get tired. At first you may only be able to do two or three intervals, but your muscles get stronger and you build up the number of intervals you can complete. Go easy the next day or take a day off if you feel any discomfort.

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Are You Fit?

The latest research shows that exercising for 30 minutes three times a week will not necessarily make you fit, nor does exercising for 60 minutes seven days a week. To become fit, you have to make your heart and skeletal muscles stronger. Exercising at a casual pace does not strengthen muscles. This means that going out and jogging slowly so that your leg muscles are always comfortable and do not burn will not make you fit. Lifting a weight ten times in a row and not feeling a burn in your muscles will not make you significantly stronger.

When you exercise intensely, your muscles stretch and tear. It's the tearing that causes the burning during exercise, and leads to the soreness that you feel for the next day or two. When your muscles heal from these tears, they are stronger than they were before. So it's the burning during exercise that causes the tearing that causes the next-day soreness. Then you take days off or go slowly so you can recover; your muscles heal, which gets rid of the soreness, and with healing, the muscle is stronger than it was before you did the exercise.

However, there are some serious problems with training for real fitness. If the force on your muscles during exercise is greater than the strength of your muscles, they will tear too much and you will be injured. If your muscles are still sore from a previous workout and you try to exercise intensely, you can cause a serious injury. You must learn to tell whether the burning is the good burning that causes muscle growth or the bad burning in which you put too much force on your muscles and tear them so you can't exercise at all.

The program I recommend for fitness applies only to healthy people. It could cause heart attacks in people with damaged hearts. Before trying this, check with your doctor. The rules for fitness are that you should spend several months exercising at a casual pace and not going for the burn. After a few months, you should be able to exercise 30 minutes every day and not feel sore. Then you are ready to start training.

If you are a runner or a biker, go out and run or ride very fast until your legs burn, slow down until the burning goes away. Then when your muscles feel fresh again, pick up the pace. When your legs start to stiffen, stop the workout. On the next day, either do nothing or go slowly and do not try to do another intense workout until your muscles feel fresh. Then when your muscles feel fresh, you take another hard workout. Remember, trying to exercise intensely on sore muscles will only injure you.

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Run faster!

If you don't run very fast in practice, you won't be able to run very fast in races.

At the University of Copenhagen, Danish scientists studied experienced runners who had been running 60 miles a week at a fast pace. One group was told to cut their mileage in half to only 30 miles a week, but to run a series of around 50 to 100 yard dashes as fast as they could. The other group continued running 60 miles a week at a fast pace. Runners who ran fewer miles at a faster pace had a 7 percent improvement in their body's maximal ability to take in and use oxygen.

Runners who did not increase their speed in practice did not improve, even though they ran twice as many miles. Jogging slowly reduces your chance of injury, but it won't help you to run fast. You can race only as fast as you run in practice, but don't try to run fast every day. Intense exercise damages muscles. Try to run fast once or twice a week, never on consecutive days and don't run fast when your legs feel heavy or hurt.

Warm up your heart

Most people know that you have to warm up skeletal muscles to help protect them from injury, but many do not know that warming up the heart muscle also helps to prevent heart attacks in people with blocked arteries leading to the heart

Before you try to run very fast, you can protect your muscles from injury by performing a series of runs of gradually-increasing intensity to increase the circulation of blood to your muscles. The same principle applies to the heart. Angina is a condition in which the blood vessels leading to the heart are partially blocked so the person has no pain at rest, but during exercise, the blocked arteries don't permit enough blood to get through to the heart muscles, causing pain. A study from the Quebec Heart Institute shows that exercising very slowly before a person with angina picks up the pace allows him to exercise more intensely before he feels heart pain.

If you have any suspicion of heart problems, always check with your doctor before you begin an exercise program or increase the intensity of your existing program.

Low testosterone - high cholesterol

A study from Italy shows that men with high blood pressure have low blood levels of the male hormone, testosterone, and make love much less often than men with normal blood pressure.

How can this be? The male hormone, testosterone, was thought to raise cholesterol, stiffen arteries, and increase risk for heart attacks. But this applied only to the methyl testosterone that athletes used to take, not the testosterone produced by the body.

Having high cholesterol, pre-diabetes or high blood pressure causes hardening of the arteries, which decreases blood flow to the testicles to damage the testicles and lower testosterone. High blood pressure and high cholesterol lower testosterone, so men with low testosterone are at increased risk for heart attacks. That means that every impotent man should have blood tests for cholesterol and diabetes, the two leading causes of heart attacks as well as impotence. The tests your doctor should order include HBA1C, lipid panel, C-Reactive Protein (CRP), homocysteine, Lp(a), prolactin and testosterone. By the time a man has low levels of testosterone, he may already have significant arteriosclerosis.

Journal references
More in the Heart Health section of DrMirkin.com
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Fruit juices: better than soft drinks?

Researchers at the University of Houston reviewed scientific studies to explain why sugared drinks make people fat. (Nutrition Review, April 2006) and concluded that sugared drinks do not fill people up as much as solid food does. So calories in drinks do not suppress appetite as effectively as calories in food. Soft drinks average seven teaspoons of sugar per 12-ounce serving, so for each soft drink a child takes in, he gets 140 calories that do not suppress appetite as much as the same number of calories in solid food.

Since fruit juices contain as much sugar and calories as soft drinks, it makes no sense to substitute juices for soft drinks. It’s far better to learn to drink water to quench thirst, and get calories, vitamins and other nutrients from solid foods. One way to get overweight children to take in fewer calories is to serve them sparkling mineral water or soda water, which has carbon dioxide bubbles and no calories. To many people, this bubbly water is more refreshing and tasty than ordinary water.

Wrinkles: Can they be prevented?

Unfortunately, there may not be much you can do; a study from Denmark shows that skin wrinkling and aging are influenced heavily by genetic factors (Age and Aging, January 2006). However, this doesn’t mean that you can smoke or spend many hours in the sun, two behaviors that are known to increase wrinkling. The authors studied twins to show that skin aging is associated equally between genetic and environmental factors. They also found that looking older with severely wrinkled skin is associated with dying earlier. You increase your chances of having aged, wrinkled skin by smoking, exposing your skin frequently to sunlight or being very thin.

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Itching, can't see anything?

Itching can be caused by nerve damage associated with diabetes or lack of vitamin B12, skin diseases, an allergy to something touching the skin or inside your body or a hidden tumor or infection. See my report on neuropathy. Often doctors cannot find the cause.

When more than one person in a family itches, the usually cause is scabies, a disease caused by a parasite that burrows into your skin. You usually cannot see the bug that causes scabies. Sometimes the only way that you can see it is in a piece of skin that has been removed from the body and has been placed under a microscope. You may see little bumps between your fingers, in your armpits and groin, at your belt line or on your back or chest. You also may see three or more bumps in a line. The most common treatment is to cover the entire body for 12 hours with a prescription cream containing permethrin. If you still have itching, your doctor may prescribe a single pill called Ivermectin. Check with your doctor.

Increase endurance with low-glycemic meal

The Glycemic Index measures how high blood sugar levels rise 30 to 120 minutes after eating a particular food or combination of foods. A study from Loughborough University in England shows that athletes in sports events lasting more than a couple hours may benefit from a pre-competition meal that has a low glycemic index (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2006).

How long you can exercise a muscle without hurting depends on how much sugar you can store in that muscle and how long you can keep that sugar in the muscle during competition. Just about everyone agrees that taking extra carbohydrates for two or there days prior to an endurance competition can help fill your muscles maximally with stored sugar and therefore increase endurance. A well-trained athlete can also fill his muscles maximally with sugar just by cutting back on workouts for a few days prior to competition, no matter what he eats.

Since it takes up to 24 hours to fill your muscles maximally with sugar, the pre-race meal is not used for that purpose. This new study showed that a low-glycemic index meal taken three hours prior to competition may help an athlete to exercise longer by causing muscles to use more fat, and less sugar, for energy. While nobody really knows why, the most likely explanation is that when blood sugar levels rise too high, the pancreas releases huge amounts of insulin. Insulin drives sugar into cells and causes cells to burn more sugar. This uses up sugar more quickly. On the other hand, the low-glycemic meal does not cause a high rise in insulin, so muscle burn more fat, preserve their stored sugar supply and can be exercised longer. More on the Glycemic Index

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High blood pressure during exercise: dangerous?

People with normal resting blood pressures who develop very high blood pressure during exercise are the ones most likely to develop high blood pressure later on. These people have arteries that do not expand as much as normal arteries when blood is pumped to them. When your heart beats, it squeezes blood from inside its chambers to the large arteries. This causes normal arteries to expand like balloons. If the arteries do not expand enough when blood enters them, blood pressure can rise very high.

Normal blood pressure is 120 when the heart contracts and 80 when it relaxes. During exercise, the heart beats with increased force to raise blood pressure. It is normal for blood pressure to rise up to 200 over 80 during running, and to 300 over 200 while doing a leg press with very heavy weights. If your blood pressure rises much above 200 during running, you are at increased risk for developing high blood pressure. You should go on a heart attack prevention program that includes a diet low in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates, regular exercise, losing weight if you are overweight, not smoking, and avoiding stimulants and drugs that raise blood pressure. Check with your doctor.