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Should You Exercise in Air Pollution?

It's healthful to exercise and harmful to breathe polluted air. Many people wonder if they will do more harm than good by exercising on days when the air is heavily polluted. The worst time for pollution is when clouds cover the sky and automobiles fill the roads. Automobile exhaust fumes are the principal source of air pollution in most cities, and overlying clouds increase pollution. Usually the sun’s rays heat the ground to warm air closest to the ground. Hot air rises, taking large amounts of pollutants skyward. On air inversion days, the clouds prevent the sun's rays from getting through to the ground, so the air near the ground is not heated, remains colder and doesn't rise, causing the air with its pollutants to remain close to the ground.

Air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, ozone, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide can damage your lungs. When you exercise, you breathe more deeply and more frequently so that you breathe in more pollutants. However, you don't retain more pollution. Bicycle riders in rush hour downtown Washington traffic breathe in more carbon monoxide than car riders do, but have lower blood levels of carbon monoxide. So keep exercising, but if possible, try to avoid heavily trafficked streets, and exercise before the heavy morning traffic peak or at least two hours after the evening rush hour ends.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Why is it worse to have a fat stomach than fat hips?

A new study from Queen’s University in Canada confirms that storing fat primarily in your belly, rather than your hips, increases your chances of suffering heart attacks and diabetes (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2004). When you take in more calories than your body needs, your liver turns them into fat. People who store fat primarily in their bellies are called "apples," while those who store fat primarily in their hips are called "pears." Fat cells in your belly are different from those in your hips. The blood that flows from belly fat goes directly to your liver, whereas the blood that flows from your hips goes into your general circulation. The livers of those who store fat in their bellies are blocked from removing insulin by the extra fat and therefore do not remove insulin from the bloodstream as effectively as the livers of those who store fat in their hips and have less fat in their livers. So "apples" have higher blood insulin and sugar levels.

You need insulin to drive sugar from your bloodstream into your cells, but insulin is also a harmful hormone because it lowers blood levels of the good HDL cholesterol that prevents heart attacks and raises blood levels of the bad triglycerides that cause heart attacks. Being shaped like an apple and having a beer belly increases your risk for a heart attack and diabetes. People who store fat primarily in their hips and are shaped like pears are less likely to have heart attacks.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: How can I tell if my heart rate is too fast?

Having a resting heart rate greater than 80 beats a minute quadruples your chances of developing a heart attack. A strong heart pumps large amounts of blood with each beat and doesn't have to beat as often, so a rapid heart rate often means that you have a weak heart.

The most accurate time to take your pulse is when you first open your eyes in the morning, because your heart speeds up when you move, eat, think, or take stimulants in coffee, alcohol, tea, soft drinks, cigarettes or certain medications. When you first wake up in the morning, place your fingers on the side of your neck where you feel the beat and count for sixty seconds (or use a heart rate monitor). If your resting pulse rate is greater than eighty beats a minute and you are not sick or taking stimulants, check with your doctor; you may have something wrong with your heart.

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Recipe of the Week:
Spanish Rice

List of Diana's Healthful Recipes

June 27th, 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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