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Benefits of Weight Training

Almost everyone should lift weights. Weight lifting strengthens bones, muscles ligaments and tendons, increases coordination for tasks requiring strength, and gives confidence and mobility to disabled people. Just exercising doesn't do much to strengthen muscles. If it did, marathon runners would have the largest muscles. To become strong, you have to exercise your muscles against progressively greater resistance, such as lifting heavier weights.

Just exercising doesn't strengthen bones either. Female marathon runners sometimes stop menstruating and lose tremendous amounts of bone, even though they may run more than 100 miles a week. To regain bone, they have to eat more food which will usually start them menstruating again, or they may need to take estrogen.

People with muscle and nerve diseases can also benefit from lifting weights. They may be unable to work out as long or as hard as a healthy person and they take longer to recover from their workouts. However, if they stop exercising when their muscles feel heavy or hurt and they take off when their muscles feel sore, they can make dramatic increases in strength.

Anyone starting a weight training program should be guided by an experienced instructor. Exercise with machines two or three times a week, never on consecutive days. On each exercise, use the heaviest weight you can lift comfortably eight or ten times in a row. Then allow at least 48 hours for your muscles to recover. Do not lift if they feel sore.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: My daughter has exercise-induced asthma. Does this mean that she cannot compete in sports at school?

No; many children cough, wheeze and become short of breath five to twelve minutes after they start to exercise. They should be encouraged to exercise, and most can compete in sports, provided that they know how to prevent attacks. All asthmatics can cough and become short of breath when they exercise, more commonly when they run than when they swim. Asthma is triggered by breathing dry, cold air, and swimming usually does not cause asthma because of the moist air above the water.

Special drugs called beta agonists such as terbutaline, albuterol or salbutamol relieve wheezing, but they give athletes an unfair advantage by helping their muscles to recover faster from workouts so they can do more work. The International Olympic Committee allows athletes to take these drugs by inhalation only if their physician certifies that they are asthmatics. If beta agonist inhalers do not prevent exercise-induced asthma, you can try a cortisone-type inhaler for several days before competition. Asthmatic athletes can also prevent asthma by warming up very hard 45 minutes before competition and bringing on an attack of asthma. That will often prevent them from getting a second attack when they compete. Exercise can help to control the severity of asthma attacks, even in asthmatics who do not compete.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: What are the best foods to eat before an important race?

It doesn’t make much difference what you eat before athletic competition, as long as it’s not in your stomach when you start. It takes about half an hour to empty your stomach after a meal, so you should eat about one to three hours before your event.

Your brain gets almost all its energy from sugar in your bloodstream, but there is only enough sugar there to last three minutes, so your liver has to constantly release sugar from its cells to keep you alert. Your liver fills with sugar after you eat and releases sugar afterward. If you start an athletic competition more than three hours after you eat, your liver will have used up much of its stored energy to tire you earlier during exercise.

Scientists used to recommend avoiding sugar within three hours before competition because they thought that it would cause a rise in blood sugar, to raise blood insulin high enough to cause a low blood sugar and tire you earlier. This does not happen to athletes. Now we know that it doesn’t make any difference whether you eat fat, protein or sugar before your competition.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: I lost the recipe for Diana's Golden Lentil Soup that appeared in a small booklet I purchased in the grocery store. Where can I find a copy? It was delicious!

Here it is: Golden Lentil Soup
You can double or triple the recipe to make a big batch; it freezes well.

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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