Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Consumer Reports Insights: Health clubs harbor hidden dangers

Joining a health club can make it easier and more fun to exercise. But gyms and weight rooms can also present safety problems. Bacteria in poorly maintained pools can spread disease. Antibiotic-resistant staph infections can be picked up in crowded locker rooms and from heavily used exercise equipment. You can be injured or even suffer an exercise-related heart problem. Here's how to minimize those risks.

Skin infections

Staph infections, including those caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, can spread through shared gym equipment, mats and towels. Infections tend to occur near a cut or scrape, and on certain body parts (the armpits, buttocks, groin and neck). They start off looking like a large pimple but can swell, become painful and produce pus. If they spread to your bloodstream, they can be life-threatening. Many clear up on their own, but seek medical attention if a fever develops or if the area becomes enlarged, red, tender or warm.

Use the alcohol spray or wipes that most gyms provide to wipe off equipment before and after use. Place a clean towel over mats used for doing sit-ups, stretching or yoga. Don't share towels with others. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based sanitizer. Shower after working out. If you have a cut or scrape, keep it covered with a clean adhesive bandage and don't use hot tubs or whirlpools.

Source: Washington Post.com 12/20/11

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Before You Lift a Weight, Get Some Advice

It seems unfair when people get hurt while trying to do something good for their bodies. But that is exactly what happened to nearly a million Americans from 1990 to 2007 when they sought to improve their strength and well-being through weight training — exercises done with free weights or on gym equipment called resistance machines.

To be sure, these injuries are less common than, say, those linked to running, cycling or competitive sports. But a national study, published online in March by The American Journal of Sports Medicine, revealed that these mishaps are on the rise and that they spare no body part, gender or age group.

The study covered 25,335 people aged 6 to 100 who were taken to emergency rooms with weight-training injuries. The research team, from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said that worked out to nearly one million such injuries throughout the country, an increase of 48 percent from the beginning of the 18-year study period to the end.

Men were injured in more than 80 percent of cases described in the study — hardly surprising since they are the primary users of weight rooms. But the study showed that weight-training injuries were rising faster among women, many of whom have only recently taken up the activity to help with weight control, bone density and overall ability to perform life’s chores.

In the study, sprains and strains to the upper and lower trunk were the most common injuries, and in two-thirds of cases, they resulted from people dropping weights on themselves. More than 90 percent of injuries were incurred using free weights, which were responsible for 24 percent of fractures and dislocations.

While people aged 13 to 24 had the greatest number of injuries, the largest increase occurred among those 45 and older, many of them people like me who want to delay or reverse age-related muscle loss and improve the quality of their later years.

In seeking guidance, he said, “don’t be afraid to ask about a trainer’s qualifications.

“Too Much of a Good Thing"

The most common cause of weight-training injuries, is trying to do too much — doing too many repetitions, using too much weight or doing the workout too often.

These practices can result in muscle injury and torn tendons and ligaments, as well as inflammation of the tendons and bursae (the cushionlike sacs around the joints) — all debilitating injuries that can discourage someone from returning to the gym. Lifting weights that are too heavy can injure the rotator cuff in the shoulder or strain the back.

Muscles get stronger when they are worked hard, developing microtears that are healed with protein-rich tissue. But when muscles are overstressed, the serious tears that can result are anything but strengthening.

In bench pressing, it is best to use a spotter to make sure the activity is done safely.

A second common cause of injury is poor technique, Mr. Reiff said. Improper alignment while lifting or using resistance machines can place unnatural or uneven stresses on various body parts. You must have respect for the equipment and know how to use it safely in relation to your size and abilities. The machines themselves can sometimes be a hazard, as Ms. Cleary discovered.

After an injury, it is critical to give the body the time and treatment it needs to heal before returning to weight-training. This does not necessarily mean totally abandoning a strengthening workout. If shoulders are injured, for example, legs can still be worked safely, and vice versa.

Source: Jane Brody, Washington Post 12/14/10

Monday, December 13, 2010

Worst Food in America?

These foods have earned their distinction not because of their taste but rather because of their nutrition profile.

Worst Breakfast
IHOP Big Country Breakfast with Chicken Fried Steak & Country Gravy
2,440 calories
145 g fat (56 g saturated)
210 g carbohydrates
5,520 mg sodium

Here’s the anatomy of a breakfast disaster: Take a 12-ounce steak, bread it, fry it, and then cover it with gravy. Then, on the side, drop three eggs and three buttermilk pancakes. Does it not occur to IHOP that this is actually three full meals that would weigh in at more than 800 calories apiece?

The Worst Food in America
Cheesecake Factory’s Bistro Shrimp Pasta
2,730 calories
78 g saturated fat
919 mg sodium
141 g carbohydrates

No restaurant chain exemplifies America's portion problem more than Cheesecake Factory, where the average sandwich contains nearly 1,400 calories—more than three full meals. But the Factory doesn't stop at elephantine portion sizes; combine that with heavy-handed application of cheap cooking fats and the result are dishes like the 2,580-calorie Chicken and Biscuits and the 2,460-calorie French Toast Napoleon. However, it’s this relatively healthy-sounding plate of shrimp pasta that earns this year's Worst Food in America crown from Eat This, Not That!, delivering to your system more saturated fat than you’d find in three packages of Oscar Mayer Center Cut Bacon.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Does It Make A Difference if I Eat Protein Before or After Exercise?

Eating protein after exercising may help rev up the body's muscle-making machinery, in both young and older men alike, a small study suggests.

The study of 48 men - half in their twenties and the other half in their seventies -- found that in both age groups, consuming a protein drink after exercise led to a greater increase in muscle protein, compared with downing the drink after a period of rest.

What's more, muscle protein increased at nearly the same rate in young and elderly men, the researchers report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

That suggests that, contrary to some researchers' speculation, older age may not impair the way the body digests and absorbs protein from food, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Luc JC van Loon of Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

The study has a number of limitations. Besides its small size, it did not look at actual muscle mass changes over time -- but only short-term changes in participants' muscle-fiber proteins after the protein drink. So it is not clear what kinds of gains older or younger adults might see from having their protein post-workout.

Still, the findings do suggest that exercising before consuming protein may help the body put those nutrients to greater muscle-building use, according to van Loon's team.

And for older adults, they write, exercise should "clearly" be considered as a way to boost muscle-protein buildup in response to food -- and, by extension, to support healthy aging.

The study included 24 older men with an average age of 74 and 24 young men with an average age of 21, none of whom regularly exercised.

The researchers randomly assigned the men to one of two groups; in one, the men rested for 90 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of exercise -- pedaling a stationary bike and performing light strengthening exercises. In the other group, the men spent those additional 30 minutes relaxing.

Afterward, men in both groups downed a drink containing 20 grams of protein, then had their blood levels of various amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) repeatedly measured. The researchers also took a small sample of tissue from each man's thigh muscle, right before the protein drink and 6 hours afterward, to measure changes in the amounts of protein in the muscle.

Overall, van Loon and his colleagues found, muscle protein increased to a greater extent in the exercise group versus the inactive group, and both older and younger men showed similar benefits.

It's well known that muscle mass tends to wane as people age, and some researchers have proposed that one reason may be that in older people, the body's muscle-protein production responds less efficiently to protein from food, and also to exercise.

However, the current findings suggest that this may not be the case.

"Effective dietary approaches are needed to prevent and/or attenuate the age-related loss of muscle mass," van Loon and his colleagues write.

Based on these findings, they conclude, it's possible that having protein after exercise allows for greater use of food-derived protein for muscle building, in young and old alike.

SOURCE: link.reuters.com/sax77q American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online November 17, 2010.