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Health Benefits Determined by How Intensely You Exercise

Three recent studies show that vigorous exercise is far more effective than just exercising in preventing disease and prolonging life. The first study measured how fast a person can cycle; the second, how fast the heart rate recovers after you stop exercising; and the third, the maximal amount of oxygen that a person can take in and use. These are the three most dependable measures of how fit a person is. Fitness is determined more by how INTENSELY you exercise than by how LONG you exercise.

HOW FAST YOU CAN CYCLE: The first study from Denmark followed 5106 cyclists for 18 years and showed that men who cycled very fast survived 5.3 years longer, and men who cycled moderately fast lived 2.9 years longer than men who cycled slowly. For women the figures were 3.9 and 2.2 years longer (European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, February 2012;19(1):73-80). The authors state that "the relative intensity, and not the duration of cycling, is of more importance in relation to all-cause and coronary heart disease mortality".

HEART RATE RECOVERY TEST: A slow heart rate recovery after an exercise test is associated with an increased risk of death (Journal of Internal Medicine, December 2011;270(6):589-96). 1100 healthy men, aged 42-61, exercised as hard as they could on a stationary bicycle to get their maximal heart rate, the fastest that their hearts could beat. Then they had their heart rates recorded exactly two minutes after they stopped exercising. The difference between maximal heart rate and the rate two minutes after stopping is called the recovery heart rate.

The men were followed for an average of 18 years. Those who had the greatest slowing of their heart rates were the least likely to have died during the follow-up period.

An extremely dependable way to see how fit you are is to check how much your heart rate slows down two minutes after you stop exercising as hard as you can. The greater the slowing of your heart rate, the fitter you are. This study shows that the fitter you are, the less likely you are to die.

THE MAXIMAL AMOUNT OF OXYGEN THAT YOUR BODY CAN USE: 8,565 apparently healthy men were tested to measure the maximal amount of oxygen that they could use over a given period (VO2Max). Those with the highest ability to take in and use oxygen had the least high blood pressure, high HBA1C (a test for diabetes), high fasting blood sugar levels, obesity, coronary calcium scoring, abnormal treadmill exercise test, and calculated 10-year risk for heart attacks (American Journal of Cardiology, March 2012;109(6):839-843).


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Vigorous Exercise Helps to Prevent Colon Cancer

There is overwhelming evidence that exercise helps to protect against colon cancer. A study from Australia shows that vigorous, not moderate, exercise reduces colon and rectal cancer risk (Cancer Causes Control, December 2011; 22(12):1647-58).

The human colon is a five-foot-long U-shaped tube consisting of:

• the proximal ascending colon on the right,
• a level colon that passes from right to the left, and
• the distal descending colon on the left.

The authors of this study showed that:
• The risk of distal colon cancer was reduced by performing a high level of vigorous-intensity activity
• The risk of rectal cancer was reduced by performing a high level of vigorous activity
• Proximal colon cancer risk was not affected by physical activity
• Moderate activity did not reduce the risk of any type of colorectal cancer.

This study suggests that the longer stool remains in your colon, the greater your chances of suffering colon cancer. Vigorous, but not moderate, exercise causes giant contractions of the colon which push stool and gas toward the outside. This helps clear stool from the distal descending colon, but does not affect the proximal ascending colon. Therefore, exercise helps to prevent cancer primarily in the distal descending colon.

A high vegetable and fruit diet also helps to prevent colon cancer by helping to move stool rapidly from your colon. It provides fiber which holds water, which keeps the stool soft to decrease transit time.


Should People without Heart Disease Take Statins?

If you have had a heart attack and take statins to lower cholesterol, you probably should continue to do so. Statins help to prevent further heart attacks and strokes.

However, if you have never had heart disease and are taking statins to help prevent a heart attack, you may want to check with your doctor. Statins help to prevent heart attacks in only two out of 100 people who have never had heart attacks. They also cause diabetes, memory loss, and muscle pain and can interfere with your ability to exercise.

STATINS INCREASE DIABETES RISK: Statins raise blood sugar levels and increase risk for developing diabetes (JAMA, June 22, 2011; 305(24):2556-64). The US Food and Drug Administration has recommended that statins have labels stating that they increase risk for diabetes and memory loss. These side effects increase with higher doses and potency of statins. With 20 million Americans currently taking statins, this means 100,000 new cases of diabetes.

STATINS DELAY RECOVERY FROM EXERCISE: Statins can interfere with your ability to exercise, a potent preventative of heart attacks. Athletes train by taking a hard workout that damages muscles and feel sore on the next day. They then take easy workouts until the soreness goes away. Statins increase muscle damage from exercise (Am J Cardiol, January 2012;109(2):282-7). Therefore they delay muscle recovery from hard exercise. So you can't take as many intense workouts on statins. This prevents you from competing at your best and even from gaining the healthful, heart-attack-preventing benefits of exercise.

STATINS CAUSE MUSCLE PAIN (MYOPATHY): Statins cause muscle pain and weakness in 10 to 20 percent of people who take them (New England Journal of Medicine, March 8, 2012). If you take statins and have muscle weakness, it is likely to be caused by the statins if the weakness is primarily in your hands, feet and lower legs. Weakness in the thighs and upper arms is usually caused by nerve damage, not by statin-induced muscle damage.

WHAT FACTORS INCREASE RISK FOR MUSCLE DAMAGE? You are at increased risk for statin-induced muscle damage if you are older than 60, have a low functioning thyroid gland, liver damage, or are overweight. The higher the dose of statins, the more likely you are to have muscle damage.

Drugs taken with statins that markedly increase muscle damage include:

• other drugs to lower cholesterol (fibrates, gemfibrozil)
• drugs to lower high blood pressure (calcium-channel blockers)
• drugs to shrink an enlarged prostate (doxazosin, and finasteride).

COMMON BRAND NAMES OF STATINS: Lipitor (atorvastatin), Lescol (fluvastatin), Mevacor (lovastatin), Altoprev (lovastatin extended-release), Livalo (pitavastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin), Crestor (rosuvastatin), Zocor (simvastatin), Advicor, Vytorin, Simcor.

Instructions for controling cholesterol with diet


Recipe of the Week:

Mango-Pumpkin Oatmeal Bars

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March 11th, 2012
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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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