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Weight Lifting Rules for Middle-Age and Beyond

Many middle-aged and older people have started to lift weights, since extensive data show that lack of muscles increases risk for diabetes, heart attacks and premature death (British Medical Journal, September 2009; Journal of Physiology, September 2009). However, within the first few weeks of their new weight-lifting programs, most get injured and quit.

Usually they are injured because they try to train like younger men: by picking the heaviest weight that they can lift ten times in a row, resting and repeating that set two more times. Then they feel sore for the next few days and when the soreness lessens, they lift heavy weights again, usually two or three times a week. This type of training almost always injures older novice weight lifters and ends their training program.

The safest way for most older men and women to gain strength and increase muscle size is to join a gym and try to use 15 to 20 Nautilus-type machines every day. On each machine they should pick the weight that they can lift and lower 10 times in a row comfortably, without straining or damaging their muscles (which would make their muscles feel sore on the next day). If they feel the least bit sore, they should take a day or days off until the soreness is gone. As they become stronger and the weights feel very easy for them, they should try to lift 15 times in a row, then 20 and perhaps 25 times. They should always do just one set. Only when they can lift that weight at least 20 times in a row and not feel sore the next morning, should they increase the resistance by going to the next heavier weight.

The key to this program is to avoid injuring their muscles by lifting weights in a single set and increasing the number of repetitions gradually so they do not cause next-day muscle soreness. They should not increase the weight (resistance) until they can lift a set of at least 20 daily and not feel sore the next day.

Before any older or out-of-shape person starts an exercise program, he or she should check with a physician to rule out serious problems that might be aggravated by weight lifting.

This program is for beginners and is intended to prevent injuries that plague older people when they first try to lift weights. It will not build very large muscles. It will, however, increase strength and provide the other benefits of a weight training program. After many months (injury-free) on this program, if a person wishes to build larger muscles, he or she can transition to a more traditional weight training program


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Dear Dr. Mirkin: What's wrong with watching TV or sitting at a computer for hours?

• The Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study followed 8,800 adults ages 25 and older for six and a half years and found that EACH daily hour of television viewing was associated with an 18 percent increase in deaths from heart disease, a nine percent increased risk of death from cancer, and an 11 percent increase in deaths from any cause (Circulation, January 2010).

• A study following more than 17,000 Canadians for 12 years showed that regular exercisers who had jobs that required prolonged sitting suffered from more diabetes, heart attacks and premature death than those who exercised and had jobs that required that they move about (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, May 2009).

Sitting for a long time increases risk for elevated blood sugar levels that can cause heart attacks and premature death. A high rise in blood sugar (or blood fats) causes sugar to stick to the surface of cell membranes. Once there, sugar can never get off. It is eventually converted by a series of chemical reactions to sorbitol that destroys cells, to damage every part of your body.

Contracting muscles can protect you from a high rise in blood sugar levels by removing sugar from your bloodstream without needing insulin. The main reason that you should keep your muscles moving every day is that muscles remove sugar from your bloodstream maximally while they are contracting and this effect tapers off and disappears in fewer than 17 hours. That's why you can prevent diabetes and all its side effects, heart attacks, strokes and premature death by staying active and contacting your muscles.

When you are young, your body usually produces enough insulin and responds to insulin well enough to prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high. However, as you age, your cells become less responsive to insulin. Other factors that reduce your ability to respond to insulin include:
• being overweight
• not exercising
• eating too much saturated fats from animals
• not eating enough fruits and vegetables
• not getting enough vitamin D
• having small muscles, and
• storing extra fat in your belly


Dear Dr. Mirkin: Can bathing cause vitamin D deficiency?

Bathing appears to be a likely possibility to cause vitamin D deficiency in people who already have low levels. Vitamin D is made in the outer layer of the skin, called the epidermis, on exposure to sunlight, and is secreted by the oil glands to the surface of the skin. Bathing removes vitamin D from the skin to prevent absorption into the body.

Most people can meet their needs for vitamin D by exposing their faces, arms and back directly to full sunlight for 15 minutes twice a week. However, this is not likely to happen in temperate zones in the winter, or ever in the polar regions. Other factors that prevent adequate sunlight exposure include cloud cover, smog, having dark skin, or covering the skin with clothing or sun screens.

Did you ever wonder how animals with fur or feathers get their vitamin D? The sun never shines directly on their skins, but the outer layers of their skins make pro-vitamin D that is carried to their feathers or fur which are exposed to the sun. They then get their vitamin D by licking off their oily secretions during grooming.


Recipe of the Week:

Wild Rice with Dried Cherries

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June 21st, 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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