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Get the Most From Your Warm-Up

Warming up before you exercise helps to prevent injuries and lets you jump higher, run faster, lift heavier or throw further. Your warm-up should involve the same muscles and motions you plan to use in your sport. For example, before you start to run very fast, do a series of runs of gradually-increasing intensity to increase the circulation of blood to the muscles you will be using.

Muscles are made up of millions of individual fibers, just like a rope made from many threads. When you start to exercise at a very slow pace, you increase the blood flow to muscle fibers, increase their temperature, and bring in more oxygen, so the muscles are more pliable and resistant to injury. When you contract a muscle for the first time, you use less than one percent of your muscle fibers. The second time you bring in more fibers, and you keep on increasing the number of muscle fibers used in each contraction for several minutes of using that muscle. It’s called recruitment. When you are able to contract more muscle fibers, there is less force on each individual fiber to help protect them from injury. Usually you are warmed up when you start to sweat.

The same principle applies to your heart. Angina is a condition in which the blood vessels leading to the heart are partially blocked so the person has no pain at rest, but during exercise, the blocked arteries don't permit enough blood to get through to the heart muscles, causing pain. If people with angina exercise very slowly before they pick up the pace, they are able to exercise longer and more intensely before they felt heart pain. Always check with your doctor if you feel any heart pain during exercise.

Competitive athletes in sports requiring speed and endurance perform better after they warm up with increasing intensity. Warming up slowly does not increase the maximum amount of oxygen that you can bring to muscles that you need during competition. If you are a runner, skier, cyclist, or an athlete in any sport that requires endurance, warm up at a gradually increasing pace. Use a series of increasingly intense repetitions of 10 to 30 seconds duration, with short recoveries, until you are near your maximum pace. This type of warm-up increases endurance because intensity increases the maximum amount of oxygen that you can bring to your muscles, as you continue to compete, and lets your muscles contract with greater force as you begin to fatigue. You will then be able to bring in more oxygen to your muscles than you could have done without the intense warm-up.


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Dear Dr. Mirkin: I’ve heard that green tea is good for your heart. Does regular tea have the same effect?

Probably. Several studies show that people who drink green tea have a reduced incidence of heart attacks. Since black tea is made by fermenting green tea leaves, you would think that green tea and black tea would be the same, and they may be. But almost all studies on tea and heart attacks have been done with green tea, probably because green tea companies support and publicize the studies. Both green and black tea contain potent antioxidants: flavinoids, polyphenols and catechins. These antioxidants block cox-2 enzymes that cause clots and block arteries. Scientists do not recommend tea to prevent heart attacks yet because there may be other variables. Tea drinkers may have fewer heart attacks because they have healthier lifestyles for other reasons.


Dear Dr. Mirkin: Sometimes I just can’t make it through the day without a nap. Is that abnormal?

I think naps are good for you, and I nap every day. Napping may even make you smarter. One study compared a people’s ability to learn after no sleep, a 30-minute nap, or a 60- minute nap. Those who had a 30-minute nap did better than those who didn’t nap, while those who took a 60-minute nap did far better than those who took only a 30-minute nap.

When you start a nap, your eyes are kept still, called non-rapid-eye-movement sleep. You drop down from stage one sleep into a deeper stage two, then a deeper stage three, and then your eyes start to move rapidly back and forth. This is called Rapid Eye Movement sleep, or REM sleep. This study shows that you learn better if you wake up right after non-REM sleep (stage two), and you get more non-REM sleep in a 60-minute nap than a 30-minute nap.

If you feel tired most afternoons, you are normal. In many parts of the world it is traditional to take an afternoon nap or siesta. Studies of office workers and school children show that people work best in the early morning. As the morning progresses, they lose their ability to concentrate. Then they go out to lunch and function way below their capacity for the rest of the day. It gets worse as you age. Tiredness is a signal that your brain needs a rest. Find a quiet place to lie down and take a nap.


My favorite fall soup recipe . . .

Three Sisters Soup

List of Diana's Healthful Recipes

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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