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Master Athletes Age Better

Almost 50 percent of Americans die of heart attacks and strokes, diseases that are associated with a faulty diet and lack of exercise. Almost 80 percent are overweight or obese, which is also associated with lack of exercise. Yet only 13 percent of people over 65 engage in vigorous physical activity three or more days a week. Among those over 75, only six percent exercise regularly.

Master athletes are older men and women who compete in sports at a very high level, no matter how old they are. They are healthier than age-matched people in virtually every category that has been measured (Nutrition Today, Volume 40, 2006). Of course they are more fit, as measured by their maximal ability to take in and use oxygen. They have lower cholesterols, comparable to those of people in their twenties. They have lower glucose tolerance and HBA1C screening tests for diabetes. They have lower waist-to-hip ratios, decreasing their risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes. They have far less body fat.

Many people who have never exercised are afraid to start an exercise program. They should check with their doctors and get a special exercise stress test. If they pass the test, they are at low risk for complications during exercise. Then they should join an organized exercise program. One study showed that 85 percent of middle aged Americans who start an exercise program quit in the first six weeks. Those most likely to remain exercised with a spouse or friend, used a personal trainer, or participated in classes such as aerobic dancing or spinning. Successful lifelong exercisers usually make their sports part of their social life, not just a tedious chore.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Are fruit juices a better choice for children and teens than soft drinks?

Researchers at the University of Houston reviewed scientific studies to explain why sugared drinks make people fat. (Nutrition Review, April 2006) and concluded that sugared drinks do not fill people up as much as solid food does. So calories in drinks do not suppress appetite as effectively as calories in food. Soft drinks average seven teaspoons of sugar per 12-ounce serving, so for each soft drink a child takes in, he gets 140 calories that do not suppress appetite as much as the same number of calories in solid food.

Since fruit juices contain as much sugar and calories as soft drinks, it makes no sense to substitute juices for soft drinks. It’s far better to learn to drink water to quench thirst, and get calories, vitamins and other nutrients from solid foods. One way to get overweight children to take in fewer calories is to serve them sparkling mineral water or soda water, which has carbon dioxide bubbles and no calories. To many people, this bubbly water is more refreshing and tasty than ordinary water.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Why do so many members of our track team use asthma inhalers?

Drugs called beta-2 agonists, such as salbutamol, salmeterol and terbutaline, open the closed lungs of asthmatics and help them to breathe. They also increase the amount of fat in the bloodstream to increase energy sources of exercising muscles, help to preserve the muscles’ store of sugar, and help muscles to contract with more force. The common inhaled asthma medication called albuterol has been shown to improve athletic performance.

These asthma medications are potent stimulants, so they could cause irregular heart beats. It is illegal for Olympic competitors to take albuterol pills. However, asthmatics need their medications, so the Olympic medical committee allows asthmatics to take these same medications by inhaler, provided that a doctor informs the Olympic committee beforehand that the athlete is an asthmatic and is taking this medication. Needless to say, there are unprecedented numbers of asthmatics registered with the Olympic committee and other authorities in sports that monitor drug use.

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Recipe of the Week

Minnesota Salad

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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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