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This Week In Health: Tipping Point With ‘Superbugs’

“This Week In Health” offers some highlights from the world of health and wellness that you may have missed this week:

  • Experts say we are at a tipping point with antibiotic-resistant bacteria — so-called “superbugs.” Due to the massive overuse of antibiotic drugs, pathogens are becoming increasingly immune to available treatments, posing a huge potential public health risk. The Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to curb the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock in an effort to mitigate the spread of these unkillable microbes.
  • A link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes has already been quite well established for some time. A new study published in mBio sheds new light on the precise mechanism: Type 2 diabetes is possibly caused by bacteria that become more prevalent in the bodies of people who gain weight. What this means in practice is that doctors may have a way to intercede and affect the course of Type 2 diabetes, by targeting the bacteria.
  • New research suggests that poor sleep in old age may be linked to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. The findings imply that insufficient deep sleep contributes to “a reduced ability to cement memories in the brain over the long term, resulting in greater memory loss,” according to researchers.
  • The tragic loss of 46-year-old Beau Biden to brain cancer has brought renewed attention to brain tumors, an often lethal and not fully understood form of cancer, and to developing new and more effective treatments in the fight to cure them.

Photo: NIAID via Flickr

Safe Exercise: Know The Warning Signs Of Pushing Too Hard

You know the expression about no pain, no gain. But pain and other symptoms during exercise are not normal. You should always pay attention when your body is sending you warning signs.

“Be sensible if you have symptoms. It’s better to get help so you can exercise for years to come rather than suffer a bad side effect because you were being stubborn,” says Dr. Aaron Baggish, associate director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

What’s Normal

The exercise goal for healthy people is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, such as brisk walking. At the height of a workout, you should be breathing a little harder — not so much that you can’t talk during exercise, but enough so that you can’t sing. You should also feel your heart beating faster than normal during exercise, and you may feel your muscles burn a little as they work hard for you.

Red Flags

The symptoms of trouble during exercise usually fall into four categories:

1. Chest pain. “Any chest discomfort during exertion is cause for concern,” says Dr. Baggish. It may indicate that you have an underlying condition such as coronary artery disease.

2. Shortness of breath. “If you get breathless doing an activity that didn’t bother you a week or a month ago, then something is wrong,” says Dr. Baggish. Shortness of breath can be caused by many things, such as high blood pressure or heart or lung problems.

3. Lightheadedness. Light-headedness, when you feel a little like you might faint, can sometimes happen after exercise because of dehydration. Or you may feel lightheaded after exercise as a side effect of taking blood pressure medication. Your blood pressure is normally at its lowest in the 30 to 60 minutes after exercise.

If you’re taking medication to lower blood pressure and you exercise, that’s often when you’ll feel symptoms of low blood pressure, such as lightheadedness. But if lightheadedness strikes while you’re exercising, it may indicate problems with your heart or lungs, and in rare cases, it may be a sign of a stroke or a brain tumor.

4. Joint pain. Arthritis is a common cause of joint pain, but Dr. Baggish points out that arthritic joint pain usually goes away with exercise.

“If a single joint is painful during exercise and doesn’t loosen up, that’s an indication that something else is wrong,” says Dr. Baggish. Potential problems include injury to a tendon, ligament, or muscle.

What You Should Do

If physical activity causes you to experience chest or joint pain, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness, Dr. Baggish recommends that you stop exercising immediately and pick up the phone.

“Don’t push through the exercise, which may cause damage to your heart or muscles, but do call your doctor and get your symptoms checked out,” he says.

If you’re not sure which doctor to call, start with your primary care physician. If you have an underlying condition that may be related to your symptoms, such as a heart condition, call your specialist, such as a cardiologist.

It may not be necessary to be seen by a physician the same day that you experience symptoms. But you need to speak that day to someone in your physician’s office, who will tell you how quickly you should be seen.

Don’t assume that your symptoms mean you shouldn’t give exercise another try. Talk to your doctor about when you can return to your exercise routine and whether you should make any changes to it.

“Everyone can do a form of exercise if it’s done carefully, with the supervision of a doctor,” says Dr. Baggish.

Stretching may help prevent falls. Warm up before exercising by walking for a few minutes. After exercising, when muscles are more pliable, try static stretches like this seated overhead stretch, which stretches the abdominal muscles and upper body.

Starting position: Sit up straight with your arms at your sides.

Movement: Lift your arms up toward the ceiling, keeping your shoulders down and back. Your palms should now be facing up. Hold the stretch 10 to 30 seconds. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat this stretch two times.

Photo: U.S. Pacific Fleet via Flickr

Don’t Put Too Much Of A Good Thing Into That Healthy Diet

By Danielle Braff, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Nutritionists are continually spouting the benefits of foods like tomatoes, avocados and fish, but overdoing it on these healthy foods actually can be harmful.

“Even nutritious food can be too much of a good thing if you eat it in too large a quantity or too often,” said Elisa Zied, New York-based dietitian, nutritionist and author of Younger Next Week. “For one, anything that has calories — even if they’re quality calories — can add up if your portion gets too big. Also, if you overdo any one food, you will leave less room for other foods that provide a different mix of nutrients.”

Here are some ways to find the right balance so you don’t eat too much of a good thing.

Olive Oil

Why it’s good for you: A major component of the healthful Mediterranean diet, it lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure because it contains monounsaturated fatty acids (as opposed to saturated fats or trans fats). A study published in Neurology found that older people who regularly consume olive oil have a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who never consume it. Other studies have found that it helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, protects against Alzheimer’s disease, prevents acute pancreatitis and protects the liver from oxidative stress, in addition to other diseases.

Too much of a good thing: “Because olive oil is looked upon as a healthy fat, people think they should not be concerned about calories,” said Andrea Giancoli, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian and nutrition consultant. “But calories count.”

Stick to this: Giancoli recommends sticking to one tablespoon daily, which is 120 calories. If you want more than one tablespoon, you should cut calories in other areas of your diet that day.

Agave syrup

Why it’s good for you: Agave was promoted as being on the low-glycemic index and doesn’t spike your blood sugar like regular sugar does — so it’s a good alternative for diabetics. It’s also natural.

Too much of a good thing: Agave is mostly fructose, and it has more calories than sugar (1 teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories while 1 teaspoon of agave has 21), Giancoli said. Fructose may increase your risk for heart disease and metabolic syndrome, and it is converted into belly fat faster.

Stick to this: The American Heart Association recommends limiting sweets to 6 teaspoons daily for women and 9 teaspoons for men. Giancoli suggests treating agave like sugar. “If you’re not going to put a tablespoon of sugar into your coffee, then don’t do this for agave,” she said.

Avocado

Why it’s good for you: It’s high in monounsaturated fat, which reduces bad cholesterol, lowers your risk of stroke, heart disease, and cancer — and may promote a healthy body weight. It also contains about 4 grams of protein and is high in vitamins K, B, C and E.

Too much of a good thing: “Each one also contains 322 calories and 29 grams of fat,” said Allison Parker, registered and licensed dietitian for Mariano’s, a Roundy’s brand grocery story.

Stick to this: Parker has 1/4 to 1/3 of a medium avocado as a service of fat in her meals or snacks — essentially using the avocado as a replacement for another fat, like butter or mayonnaise.

Tomato and orange

Why they’re good for you: Tomatoes are high in vitamins A, B6, E and K, and they’re also a good source of copper, potassium, fiber and phosphorus. Oranges are packed with vitamin C, phytochemicals and flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory properties — and they are only about 80 calories.

Too much of a good thing: “If you overdose on them, one thing that comes to mind is tooth enamel,” Zied said. “Too much acidity can wear it away, so it’s good to eat acidic fruits and vegetables for their nutrients and water content but to also choose other options in those categories (for example hard, crunchy fruits like apples, carrots and celery that stimulate the flow of saliva and neutralize the acids in foods that can erode enamel).”

Stick to this: 1/2 to 1 cup of tomatoes, an orange or a clementine is great per day.

Nuts

Why they’re good for you: Most nuts boast a good dose of monounsaturated fat that, when used to replace saturated fats and trans fats, can reduce blood cholesterol and lower heart disease and stroke risk, Zied said. “Nuts also provide polyunsaturated fats, which are essential fats our bodies need from the diet since it can’t make them,” Zied said.

Too much of a good thing: They’re easy to overdo because they’re a concentrated source of calories (a lot of calories in a small portion), Zied said.

Stick to this: 1 ounce of nuts per day — or up to 1 1/2 ounces if you can afford the calories. Mix the types of nuts so you get a different mix of nutrients and flavors in your diet. An ounce of almonds is 24 whole almonds or 4 tablespoons chopped. An ounce of walnuts is 14 halves or 4 tablespoons chopped. An ounce of pistachios is 48 pistachios.

Large fish (such as tuna, swordfish or mackerel)

Why it’s good for you: It’s lean protein and high in B12, vitamin D, calcium and iron. It also has high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been associated with everything from reducing inflammation and heart disease to warding off depression.

Too much of a good thing: These types of fish contain relatively high levels of mercury, and while this is particularly concerning in pregnant and lactating women, it’s not good for anyone to ingest too much mercury, Parker said.

Stick to this: No more than 6 ounces of large fish weekly.

Fruit smoothie

Why it’s good for you: This is a great way to get in an extra dose of fruits, vegetables and possibly low-fat dairy.

Too much of a good thing: The calories add up, Parker said. “If you wouldn’t eat them all together in one sitting, consider modifying your recipe to incorporate a more realistic service.”

Stick to this: 1 cup of spinach, half of a banana and 1/2 cup assorted frozen berries. You may also add milk or yogurt to increase the protein and provide some added calcium, Parker said.

Photo: Keep olive oil to a tablespoon a day. (Anne Cusack/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Easy Exercises To Help Save Your Knees

By Wina Sturgeon, Adventure Sports Weekly (TNS)

The human knee is a complicated joint, and as too many athletes find out, it’s very prone to injury. Strains, sprains and tears of the connecting ligaments all provide good income for orthopedic surgeons.

There are a couple ways to help prevent down time or surgery from a damaged knee. One is to have excellent form in your sport; though because sports are unpredictable, even good form is no guarantee. But the surest way to prevent damage is to make sure all the connective tissues that attach the major bones of the knee together are strong.

The juicy, blood-filled muscles are easy to strengthen with a good workout routine. But connective tissue doesn’t have anywhere near as much blood as muscle. That’s why it’s white rather than the red. But a proper program of resistance and recovery will gradually make the white tissues stronger as you build muscle with your conditioning program. It just takes longer to strengthen connective tissue, so you can’t slack off.

Here are a few exercises that can help build strength in the ligaments that hold the bones of the knee together, while also working the surrounding muscles.

— Every gym has both an abductor and an adductor machine. You can always remember the difference between these two muscles, because the abductor is on the outside of the leg, so just remember the term ‘abduct,’ as in ‘take away,’ since this muscle moves the leg away from the body. The adductor moves the leg back under the body’s mass. Working both these muscles also works the side ligaments of the knee; the medial collateral (inner) and lateral collateral (outer).

— You can add additional strength to prevent those painful and hard-to-heal groin pulls by working with a weighted ankle cable instead of a gym machine. Attach the cable to a cuff around your ankle. Stand up straight with the ankle placed a few feet away from your body. Starting with light resistance, pull the ankle with its attached cuff close to the leg that’s under your body. You should feel the resistance in your knee, but it should never be painful. Do between eight and 12 reps, then do the same with the other leg. This works the medial collateral ligament.

Next, turn around so that both legs are together with no resistance. Move the cuffed ankle away from the cable, so you feel it on the outside of the knee. This works the lateral collateral ligament. Both these cable resistance exercises are terrific for athletes who do a lot of cutting, with quick changes in direction.

— The third exercise to protect your knee cohesion is the leg extension. Here’s where the athlete’s workout mantra comes in: ‘Just because you can use a heavy weight doesn’t mean you should.’ While the leg extension in all its various forms can help strengthen the cruciate ligaments (anterior and posterior), your thigh muscles may be a lot stronger than your knee ligaments. Your quads may be easily able to handle a weight that can put a strain on your knee ligaments.

Keep a notebook where you record the frequency and resistance of all exercises you do to increase the stabilization of your knee ligaments. Carefully note how your knee is reacting to these exercises. If either knee is sore the next day, or becomes unusually sore after a game or practice, lighten both the resistance and the reps. Refer to this record often to see exactly when your knee reacted badly after a workout. You may have to decrease the frequency of these exercises. Your notebook will tell the tale.

But your workouts to strengthen the connective tissues of your knees will tell another tale, a very positive one. It will be of a season where you may have taken risks that once could have hurt your knee ligaments. But because your knees were strong, you finished your season without ever even feeling even a twinge of pain.
___

Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly, which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.

Photo: Rail Gunners via Flickr