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Lots of Miles Don’t Make Great Runners

When I trained seriously for marathon running, I thought that the runner who ran the most miles would be the best. I didn't become a great runner, but I did become an expert on injuries. My patients seldom come to me with a running injury that I haven't had.

Many top runners run more than 100 miles a week because their bodies have the genetic ability to withstand such abuse, but the vast majority of runners will never be able to run 100 miles a week without being injured frequently. Furthermore, running a lot of miles slowly will slow you in races. The ability to run fast in races depends more on how fast you run in practice than on how many miles you run each week. However, every time you run fast, your muscles are damaged and feel sore on the next day, and it takes at least 48 hours for your muscles to heal enough to allow you to run comfortably again at a very-fast pace. After every workout in which you run very fast, take the next day off or run at a much slower pace. Most top athletes plan their workouts so they run very fast only two days a week. The same principles apply to any endurance sport.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: What’s the best sport for overall fitness?

The best sports for fitness are the ones in which you exercise continuously, those that are least likely to injure you and the ones you enjoy the most. You become fit by exercising vigorously enough to increase the circulation of blood. It makes no difference to your heart how you increase your circulation. The best sports for fitness use your legs because the blood vessels in your legs are so much larger that you can circulate far more blood with your leg muscles. Furthermore, arm exercises tire you earlier because most people have weaker arms.

Some sports require a great level of fitness just to start. For example, to jump rope, you must spin the rope more than 80 times a minute to keep it from tangling. Many people can't jump 80 times a minute. The safest sports are low-impact aerobics, walking, swimming and pedaling a stationary bicycle. Running causes lots of injuries, because the force of your foot striking the ground can be three times your body weight, which can damage muscles and bones.

You are most likely to continue a lifelong fitness program if you pick an activity that you enjoy. However, sports that don’t keep you moving may be fun, but they won’t make you fit. Most tennis players spend about 80 percent of their playing time waiting for the ball; and golfers are usually required to ride in carts, even if they would prefer to walk.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Is exercise harmful for a person with varicose veins?

No; in fact, a regular exercise program may be the most effective treatment for varicose veins. Veins are supposed to contain valves that keep blood from backing up. When the valves cannot close properly, veins become varicose, blood backs up and causes the veins to widen and look like blue snakes underneath the skin. Since varicose veins swell because blood pools in them, the best treatment is to empty blood from the veins. When you exercise, your leg muscles alternately contract and relax, squeezing blood toward the heart. Running, walking, cycling, skiing, skating and dancing are ideal treatments, while standing or sitting increase blood pooling and widen the veins. People with varicose veins should not stand around for a long time. You should wear support hose when you stand or walk slowly, but you don't need them when you exercise.

Varicose veins are caused by a genetic weakness in the valves or an obstruction of blood flow, which may be caused by obesity, pregnancy, tumors, clots or heart disease. Superficial varicose veins that you can see can cause a feeling of heaviness or aching, but they are rarely painful. If you hate the way large veins look, a surgeon can remove them, but most varicose veins are best left alone. Special injections and laser burning remove only small veins.

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Recipe of the Week:
Wild Rice with Dried Cherries
(A super-simple, festive side dish)

List of Diana's Healthful Recipes

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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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