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Faster Runners Have Longer Strides

When most experienced runners go as fast as they can, they run at close to the same stride rate. For example, a video at the New York City Marathon showed that the top 150 runners had the same cadence, taking 92 to 94 steps a minute. The difference between the top runners and the others is that the best runners took longer strides.

However, you cannot run faster by consciously trying to increase your stride length. When you try to take longer strides than what feels natural to you, you lose energy and run more slowly.

Your heel hits the ground with great force. The tendons in your legs absorb some of this energy and then contract forcibly after the heel strikes the ground so you regain about 60 to 75 percent of that stored energy. When you try to take a stride that is longer than your natural one, you lose a great deal of this stored energy, tire much earlier and move your legs at a slower rate.

The key to running faster in races is to make your leg muscles stronger so you can contract them with greater force so they drive you forward with a longer stride. Competitive runners strengthen their legs by running very fast in practice two or three times a week, and by running up and down hills once or twice a week.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Will drinking oxygenated water help me exercise longer?

When you exercise as hard as you can, you gasp for breath because you cannot meet your needs for oxygen, no matter how hard or fast you breathe. Lack of oxygen prevents you from breaking down lactic acid so it accumulates in your muscles and blood, and you develop severe shortness of breath. Researchers analyzed the effects of drinking oxygenated water daily for two weeks on lung function and clearance of lactic acid from the bloodstream during exhausting exercise. During both exercise and rest, there was no difference between people who drank oxygenated water and those who drank ordinary water as a placebo.

Oxygenated water would be helpful to fish because they have gills whose main function is to extract oxygen from water. Since you don't have gills, extra oxygen in water is useless to you. Lungs are the only organ humans have to provide oxygen to the bloodstream, extracting it from the air you breathe. Water is not broken down into hydrogen and oxygen in your digestive tract; it is absorbed, used and excreted as water. Since you have no mechanism for moving extra oxygen from water into your bloodstream, oxygenated water cannot possibly help you with exercise or anything else. I recommend that you save your money.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: How can I exercise when my back hurts?

Running, jogging, or any sport that requires jumping are usually poor choices for people with back pain. The bones of your spine are located one on top of the other, separated by pads called discs. Bones are much harder than discs, so when spinal bones are compressed and move closer together, they can flatten the discs like pancakes. Since the discs are shorter, they have to go somewhere else, so they widen and press on the nerves near them, causing pain. This is called a herniated disc. Anything that presses the bones closer together squashes the disc further and usually makes it hurt more. During running or jumping, the force of the foot striking the ground is transmitted up the leg to the back, which can compress the discs and cause pain.

The best exercises are those that do not hurt when you do them. Riding a bicycle, walking or swimming do not exert a jarring force on the discs to compress them, so these exercises are recommended for people with back pain as long they don't hurt while they exercise. Doctors often recommend special exercises to flatten the lower back, strengthen the belly muscles and stretch the lower back muscles. The key to exercising when you have a compressed disc is to stop exercising when you feel pain. You may need to try several different activities to find the right one for you.

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Recipe of the Week:

Salmon Mousse

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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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