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Hypothermia and Frostbite

In 1812, Napoleon attacked Russia with 450,000 men, but after he withdrew from Moscow, the harsh cold winter reduced his army to fewer than 10,000 fighting men. The vast majority of Napoleon's soldiers were not killed by the Russians. They died of hypothermia, a severe drop in body temperature. Napoleon’s surgeon general didn’t help matters when he recommended that the soldiers rub snow on their frostbitten hands. Rubbing snow on frostbite removes skin.

If you dress properly and exercise vigorously enough, frostbite or hypothermia should never happen to you. Your body sends you signals as your temperature starts to drop. With a one degree drop in temperature, your speech becomes slurred. This, in itself, is not dangerous, and occurs when people stay out in temperatures below 35 degrees, but it serves as a warning that you are losing more heat than your body is producing. To protect yourself, you can produce more heat by exercising harder or you can conserve heat by adding more layers of clothes. With a drop of three degrees, you'll find it difficult to coordinate your fingers. Seek shelter immediately. When your temperature drops five degrees, you won't be able to walk and you'll stumble and fall and not be able to get up. Then you may not be able to get out of the cold and your body temperature can continue to drop rapidly and you can die. If your clothes are wet, your temperature will drop even faster. Take the warning signals seriously; if you have slurred speech or difficulty using your hands, take action or you may not get another chance.

Frostbite means that your skin is frozen. You have plenty of warning before that happens. Your normal skin temperature is around 90 degrees. As your skin temperature starts to drop, blood vessels close and your skin turns white. When the temperature reaches 59 degrees, your body attempts to re-warm your skin by opening the blood vessels, causing your skin to tingle, itch, burn and turn red. When this happens, get out of the cold. If you don't, the blood vessels in your skin will close down again and your skin temperature can drop below 30 degrees and start to freeze.


Dear Dr. Mirkin: I have varicose veins. Should I wear elastic stockings while I ride my bike?

You may benefit from wearing support hose when you stand around, but it is unlikely that you will need them when you exercise. Veins in your legs carry blood up toward your heart. When you stand up, gravity pulls blood down to your feet. Your leg veins are supposed to have valves in them that keep the blood from backing up, but some people have veins that are too wide apart and cannot close properly, or they may have been born without any valves. These people have varicose veins that widen with blood and look like snakes. Support hose squeeze the legs and help to prevent blood from pooling in veins and distending them.

When you exercise, the force of your contracting muscles keeps blood from pooling. When your leg muscles relax, the veins near them fill up with blood. When your leg muscles contract, they squeeze the veins near them and pump blood up toward your heart. The pumping action of your leg muscles exerts such a strong force to empty your veins that you don't need support hose. In hot weather, the support hose can act as a barrier to prevent heat loss. Your body temperature may rise and you may tire earlier.


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Dear Dr. Mirkin: I had to stop playing basketball last season because of overtraining. How can I set up a sensible training program?

Competitive athletes prevent overtraining injuries by following a few weeks of hard training with a few weeks of easy workouts. Training for competitive sports is done by stressing your body with a hard workout which makes your muscles feel sore afterward. If you try to take a hard workout when your muscles still feel sore from a previous workout, you can expect to be injured. So, for a day or two after a hard workout, competitive athletes take easy workouts until the soreness goes away. Then they take another hard workout. Runners run very fast interval workouts, for example, a quarter mile at near maximum speed, rest, and then repeat these very fast runs 12 to 16 times. On their next workouts, they run slowly until the soreness is gone. So a competitive runner runs fast only two or three times a week.

However, after a few weeks of running very fast, their muscles start to feel tight and heavy for more than two days after a hard workout. That's a signal that their muscles are frayed and running out of their stored sugar supply. Most high-level athletes cycle their workouts. They run very fast twice a week for two or three consecutive weeks and when their legs start to feel heavy, they run more slowly for a week or two. You should do the same. Try to exercise more intensely once or twice a week, never on consecutive days; and then when you muscles start to feel heavy, stop working so hard for a week or two until they feel fresh again.


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Diana's Healthful Recipes

Favorite Dip Recipes!
Fresh Salsa
Spicy Peanut Dip (try it, you’ll love it)
Tex-Mex Bean Dip

List of Diana's Healthful Recipes

June 26th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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