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Don't Try Breathing Only Through Your Nose

People who exercise with their mouths closed aren't working very hard. You can't get enough air through your nose to meet your needs for oxygen when you exercise vigorously. The cross sectional area of the openings in your nose is less than one-tenth the opening in the back of your mouth. That space is so narrow that when you pick up the pace, you could turn blue if you failed to open your mouth.

Your nose clears pollutants far more efficiently than your mouth does, but people with healthy lungs can exercise safely on polluted days. Pollutants that you breathe in through your mouth can be quickly cleared from your lungs. Your air tubes are lined with small hairs, called cilia, that sweep pollutants towards your mouth where you swallow them with your saliva and they pass from your body. If you are concerned on high-pollution days, you can wear a mask or exercise away from automobile traffic.

Some people believe that exercising with your mouth open in very cold weather could harm your lungs, because your nose warms the air much more than your mouth doe. However, exercise causes your body to produce such large amounts of heat that air taken through your mouth at 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit will be warmed almost 100 degrees before it reaches your lungs. Breathing air that cold would burn and hurt so much that you would quickly lose interest in exercising and seek shelter.


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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Should young children get involved in team sports?

If your child is interested in a competitive sports program, encourage him or her to participate. One study from France showed that a 13-week training program caused 10 and 11 year old children to develop significantly stronger hearts and an increased ability to take in and use oxygen. Their resting heart rates decreased, signifying that their hearts could pump more blood with each beat, and they had a marked increase in their ability to exercise intensely.

However, children in training for competitive sports should be allowed to take days off each week and have plenty of time to be children. Another study showed that 90 percent of fourth to sixth grade children in a cross country racing program did not compete in that sport in high school. See


Dear Dr. Mirkin: My blood tests show a low iron level; should I take iron pills?

Low blood iron levels can be beneficial as long as you are not anemic. Donating blood lowers blood iron levels and also helps to prevent heart attacks. Before the bad LDL cholesterol can form plaques in arteries, it must be converted to oxidized LDL cholesterol, and iron causes this reaction. Lack of iron reduces your chances of forming plaques in arteries to cause heart attacks and strokes.

Routine blood tests measure the size of your red blood cells. If they are small, your doctor will order a test called ferritin to measure iron reserves. If your ferritin is low, your doctor will look for a source of bleeding from menstruation or through the intestinal tract. If no serious source is found, you need no treatment unless you are a highly competitive athlete.

Less than 50 percent of the iron in your body is in your red blood cells. Most is in your iron reserves in your liver, spleen and other tissues. Your body needs iron to make red blood cells and if your body does not contain enough iron, you will become anemic, but you will not become anemic until you have depleted all your iron reserves. You can be iron deficient but not anemic, when you have an adequate supply of red blood cells, but no iron reserves. Iron deficiency does not make you tired unless you are also anemic, but it can tire athletes exercising at their maximum.


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Zippy Black Bean Dip

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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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