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Thirty Minutes Three Times a Week is Not Enough

If you have heard that you get maximum benefit from exercising for 30 minutes three times a week, you've been given bad advice. Exercise can help to lower high blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin levels and body fat. However, for most people, it takes a lot of exercise to see these results.

A recent study shows that many people need to exercise a very long time just to achieve a normal life expectancy (Current Opinion in Lipidology, February 2007). One out of three Americans can expect to develop diabetes, and most of these people have bodies that cannot respond adequately to insulin because they eat too much food and do not exercise enough. This causes their blood sugar to rise too high after meals, which, in turn, causes the pancreas to put out huge amounts of insulin that makes them even fatter. Exercise can keep blood sugar from rising too high after meals. When muscles are full of sugar, blood sugar goes from the intestines into the bloodstream and spikes to high levels. On the other hand, when muscles are empty of sugar, sugar goes from intestines into the blood and then directly into muscles to prevent the spike. It doesn't matter much whether you exercise before or after eating, because both help to prevent the spike in blood sugar that follows meals.

This study found that increasing the intensity of exercise reduces insulin resistance. If you store fat primarily in your belly, rather than your hips, the odds are overwhelming that you are either diabetic or pre-diabetic, and without changing your lifestyle, you will not live your normal lifespan. If your doctor clears you for exercise, start an exercise program. If your exercise program does not get rid of your belly fat, increase both the length and the intensity of your workouts.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Does it matter when I drink during a long race?

A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that drinking fluids earlier can improve performance more than taking them later (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, December 2006). Seven highly-trained male triathletes, aged 18 to 35 years, were tested during two simulated Olympic-distance triathlons. They took a full glass of water at 8, 16, 24, and 32 kilometers, and this was compared to taking the same drink 2, 4, 6 and 8 kilometers later in the event (at 10, 20, 30, and 40 kilometers).

As you would expect, opening swim times for 1500 meters were similar between trials; as were the second event (40-km cycling) times, but the third event (10-km run) times were faster when the athletes took food and drink earlier. Dehydration does not harm an athlete's performance until he lacks a large amount of water and his blood volume is depleted significantly. That explains why the athletes' performance was not harmed until the third event of the three-event competition.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Is a Mediterranean-style diet the best way to prevent heart attacks?

Here is one more study that shows obesity, heart attacks, strokes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are influenced by lifestyle. Researchers at the University of Athens, in Greece showed that a person's chances of becoming diabetic or developing high blood pressure, heart attacks or obesity can be predicted by the diet he eats (Preventive Medicine, April 2007).

The authors developed a diet score ranging from 0–55 to check adherence to the Mediterranean diet. The gave scores of 0 to 5 each for consuming non-refined cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, fish and potatoes). They awarded scores of 0 to 5 for eating these foods: never, rare, frequent, very frequent, weekly and daily. They subtracted points for eating red meat, poultry and full fat dairy products. You guessed it. Those on healthy diets were at very low risk for these conditions, while those with low scores were at high risk.

This study confirms many others that advise you to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts, and some fish and shellfish. For a perfect score, follow my diet guidelines

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Recipe of the Week

Seafood Stir Fry

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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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