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Increasing Exercise after Age 50 Prolongs Lives

Men who start or increase their exercise programs after age fifty live longer than those who remain at their present activity levels, according to a study in the British Medical Journal (March 2009). More than 2200 men were checked at ages 60, 60, 70, 77 and 82 years. The greater the increase in exercise duration over that span, the longer their lives were extended. The reduction in early death from increasing exercise was the same as for men who stopped smoking.

Lack of exercise is associated with obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, osteoporosis, and cancer. Exercising regularly more than halves your chance of dying prematurely (Archives of Internal Medicine, December 2007). Yet more than 50 percent of North Americans do not exercise.

Exercise prevents disease and increases life span by many mechanisms. The major benefit probably comes from the contracting muscles themselves. A high rise in blood sugars and fats after meals damages cells. When blood sugar levels rise too high, sugar sticks to the surface of cell membranes. Once there, it can never get off, eventually killing the cells and leading to blindness, heart attacks, strokes and the other consequences of uncontrolled diabetes. Contracting muscles draw sugar and fat so rapidly from the bloodstream that they usually prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high. This effect is maximized during exercise. The effect is maintained for about half hour after you stop exercising and gradually tapers off until it disappears after about 18 hours. That explains why you get maximum benefit by exercising every day (rather than three times a week), and why greater benefit is gained by exercising more intensely for longer durations.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Since I started to train seriously for marathons, my wife has complained that I have markedly reduced my interest in making love. What can I do to keep running and satisfy my wife?

Get a medical check-up. If your doctor finds nothing wrong with you, you may be training too much. Most endurance athletes have normal blood levels of the male hormones, testosterone and dihydro-testosterone, and lose neither sexual desire nor sexual performance (Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, October 2008).

Endurance athletes who have low levels of testosterone usually have normal blood levels of LH and FSH, the brain hormones that control testicular production of testosterone. Defective testicular production of testosterone is usually associated with very high levels of brain hormones. That means that reduced sexual desire associated with endurance training is governed by the brain, not testicular damage, and is often part of an overtraining syndrome.

Training for competition is done by taking an intense workout on one day, feeling sore on the next, and going at reduced intensity for as long as it takes for the soreness to go away. Taking intense workouts when you feel soreness causes muscle injuries and fatigue that affects all your organ systems, including your sexuality. Once you develop an overtraining syndrome, it can take a very long time to recover. If this has happened to you, I recommend jogging slowly each day and stopping each workout immediately when your legs feel heavy or sore. When you feel better, you can start to train intensely again, but be sure to include slow recovery days in your training program.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Is it true that diet sodas cause diabetes?

I do not think so, even though three major studies show that people who drink diet sodas daily have a 67 percent greater risk for diabetes and a 36 percent greater risk for metabolic syndrome (low good HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides and abdominal obesity) which usually leads to diabetes (Diabetes Care, January 2009). An earlier study found that diabetics who drank one or more diet sodas per day had hemoglobin A1C levels 0.7 percent higher than those who drank none (Annals of Epidemiology, September 2006). HemoglobinA1C (or HBA1c) measures blood sugar control.

These studies show an association but do not prove cause-and-effect. If diet sodas do cause diabetes, no one has yet found a reasonable explanation. Diet sodas do not raise blood sugar levels significantly. The association between diet sodas and diabetes may be that people who drink diet sodas are more likely to be overweight and struggling to control their weight, not exercising, and not avoiding refined carbohydrates in other foods (sugar and flour). Diabetes is an environmental disease caused by these factors plus lack of vitamin D. The same factors that cause diabetes lead people to choose diet sodas.

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Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

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June 22nd, 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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