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Living High, Training Low

Athletes in endurance events practice a training technique called "living high, training low". Many years ago, scientists noticed that people who live in the mountains, where the air contains lower levels of oxygen, have higher than normal blood oxygen levels. A limiting factor in events that require endurance is the time it takes to move oxygen from the lungs into the muscles. Since more than 98 percent of the oxygen in the blood is bound to red blood cells, people with high numbers of red blood cells should have higher levels of oxygen and therefore have more oxygen available for their muscles, giving them greater endurance. It appears that living and training at high altitude would improve performance even more, so theoretically, all long distance runners, cross country skiers, bicycle racers and other athletes in endurance sports would benefit from living and training at high altitudes.

However, you can’t train as intensely in the mountains where oxygen is sparse. Lack of oxygen during hard exercise slows you down. One group of researchers decided to see if living at high altitudes would increase red blood cell concentration, and training at low altitude would allow the athletes to take harder workouts. Eleven trained middle-distance runners were tested before an 18-day training session in which they slept in special low-oxygen pressure chambers and trained at sea level with oxygen-rich air (Journal of Applied Physiology, January 2006). The tests were repeated 15 days after the training. The athletes who lived high and trained low had higher maximal oxygen uptakes, higher maximal aerobic power and lower resting heart rates than the control group. The blood of these athletes could carry more oxygen, and the oxygen concentration in their bloodstream would return to normal earlier after intense competitions so their performance would improve.

Barometric pressure chambers are avaiable for about $8000, so serious endurance athletes can "sleep high" and train wherever they live.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Should I start drinking wine to prevent a heart attack?

Studies proclaiming the health benefits of alcohol are widely promoted by the wine, beer and alcoholic beverage industries, but they have a major flaw. Researchers from the University of Victoria in British Columbia reviewed 54 studies and found that only seven corrected their non-drinking population for people who had to stop drinking for health reasons (Addiction Research and Theory, April 2006).

When you do an epidemiological study to see if alcohol prevents disease, you compare people who drink and those who do not drink. However, many people do not drink because their doctors have told them they have high blood pressure, liver, heart or kidney disease, alcoholism, stomach ulcers, or other major health problems. The Canadian researchers re-analyzed 47 studies that associated wine or other alcohol with a longer life and decreased risk for heart attacks. When the studies were corrected to remove the people who had been ordered to stop drinking for health reasons, they found no difference in death rate between moderate drinkers and those who do not drink at all. It is probably safe to take up to two drinks a day, but be skeptical of studies that say alcohol will prolong your life.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: How does exercise lower blood pressure?

If humans are like rats, those with high blood pressure will live longer when they exercise, even if their blood pressures do not return to normal. Rats can be bred to develop a genetic trait in which they develop high blood pressure, but when they exercise, they live much longer than the rats that do not exercise (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May 2006).

Having high blood pressure can kill you. It increases your chances of suffering a heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease. Exercise usually lowers high blood pressure because high blood pressure usually is determined by blood volume. Anything that reduces blood volume also reduces high blood pressure. That’s why diuretics are the most effective drugs to lower high blood pressure. Exercising for a few minutes usually does not lower high blood pressure, but exercising for several hours dehydrates you and usually does lower high blood pressure. This study shows that even if exercise does not lower high blood pressure in rats, it still helps them to live longer, and the same may apply to you. More

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New recipes – three refreshing salads with seafood:

Spicy Crab Salad
Tropical Shrimp Salad
Tossed Seafood Salad

You'll find 100 recipes, and lots of helpful diet tips, in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

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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