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Strengthen Muscles at Any Age

You are never too old to enlarge and strengthen your muscles. A study from Copenhagen, Denmark shows that just 12 weeks of lifting weights significantly strengthened the muscles of men 85 to 97 years of age (Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, August 2007). After 12 weeks of training, the cross sectional circumference of their quad muscles in the front of their upper legs increased by 10 percent, and muscle strength increased by 35 to 50 percent. Furthermore, the muscle fibers that are used for strength and speed increased significantly.

Frailty in old age is caused by lack of exercise, not just by growing old. With aging, you lose nerves. Each nerve is attached to a single muscle fiber, so as you lose muscle fibers you become weaker. Older people who exercise against resistance can enlarge their muscle fibers. This counteracts the effects of losing fibers and they can retain a significant amount of strength.

People with weak hearts can suffer heart damage with vigorous exercise. Before an older person starts an exercise program, it may be wise to check with a doctor to make sure that the heart is sound. The most dependable heart test is a thallium stress test. Then engage a personal trainer to teach the person how to exercise on a series of individual weight lifting machines that stress different muscle groups. Usually the recommended program involves going to each machine and lifting and lowering the weight on that machine in a single set of three to ten repetitions. Most people can do this three or more times a week.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: You have said that most of the serious consequences of diabetes are caused by sorbitol. If sorbitol is a poison, why is it allowed to be used in foods?

When blood sugar levels rise too high, sugar sticks to the surface membranes of cells. The sugar, glucose, is converted into another sugar, fructose, and eventually to sorbitol, which destroys the cells. This cell damage leads to heart attacks, strokes, blindness, deafness, kidney damage and the other harmful effects of diabetes.

The same chemical is harmless when it is used in foods because you do not absorb it. Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, mannitol or xylitol have almost the same chemical structures as carbohydrates, but they have an alcohol end on one side. This prevents them from being absorbed from your intestines, so they can be used to sweeten food without contributing any calories. The sugar alcohols pass undigested to your colon where they are fermented by bacteria, so large amounts can cause gas and diarrhea. That's why sorbitol is used only in foods such as hard candy or gum, where portion sizes are very small.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Should I take drugs to lower cholesterol? My LDL is 104 and HDL is 100.

Two years ago, you would have been told that your cholesterol is normal and you do not need to do anything. HDL is good cholesterol, and drugs were not recommended for a person with HDL over 75 unless the LDL was over 140. However, several studies showed that some people with high HDL cholesterol still get heart attacks, so the American Heart Association changed the guidelines. The new rules are that all people with LDL over 100 and those with heart disease or diabetes with LDL over 75 should be treated. Your doctor has probably recommended that you start taking statins.

However, you should be able to get your bad LDL cholesterol below 100 with diet alone, if you are willing to make a radical and permanent change in your eating habits. Avoid saturated fats (meat, chicken and whole milk dairy products), partially hydrogenated oils, and refined carbohydrates (all foods made with flour or sugar, and all sugared beverages). Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Do this for just two or three weeks, and ask your doctor to check your cholesterol again. The odds are that you will be within the normal range.

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Recipe of the Week

Golden Autumn Soup

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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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