Why To Exercise Today: A Dozen Reasons To Do Weights This Year

Demo of "The pec pop of love" in the trailer for "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island"

As you consider your 2012 fitness plans, may I humbly suggest weights? I spurned them for years and years, persuading myself that it was enough to heft children and grocery bags. I was excellently addicted to cardio, but did basically no strength training at all. Then, last month, came my day of reckoning: a fitness assessment that found that all my cardio had paid off with a healthy pulse, but that I could do only three — count ’em, three — full sit-ups. And my overall strength performance was decidedly mediocre for a woman who has been called “strapping.” (And by Russians, who know from strapping women.)

Those three lonely little sit-ups woke me up. Whatever I thought I was getting away with, I wasn’t. Shades of junior-high humiliation. But we are grown now, and we do not wallow in angst — we take action. I started using the weight machines at my gym, two times a week, two tough circuits each time. And to my own shock, I like it. A lot. I’m stretching on a few of these, but here are 12 reasons, from the scientific to the trivial, why you may want to join me:

1. Mood. I’m feeling oddly good lately. Could be hormones. But there’s some evidence that lifting weights lifts your mood (though nothing like the mountain of evidence on aerobic exercise.) Here’s a study about improving mood post-heart attack, covered on WebMD; and from Slate, here’s what positive psychologist Todd Kashdan told Gretchen Rubin of “The Happiness Project” fame when she asked him which activities most comforted him: “There are workout sessions where I lift weights, grunt, and temporarily shed the other layers of my existence. My equanimity hinges on my ability to be a warrior in the gym.”

2. Your heart and blood pressure: Recent research suggests that aerobic exercise has no monopoly on heart benefits. Example: A study last year from Appalachian State University in which subjects did 45 minutes of moderate weight training. The university reported that Dr. Scott Collier ‘found that the resistance training resulted in as much as a 20 percent decrease in a person’s blood pressure, which is as good as or better than the benefit of taking anti-hypertensive medication. ‘And exercise has no adverse side effects,” Collier said.”
Men’s Fitness translated the study into the headline, “Get heart healthy by lifting weights.”

3. A great many other health benefits. They range from bone-building to body mechanics to reduced risk of falling as you get older. You can read about some of them on here.

4. Music. Continue reading

Doctor As Shaman Of The Digital Village, And Other Blog Pearls

Dr. Vikas Saini

“Shaman of the digital village.”

What an intriguing phrase. It refers to the special magic that human doctors will still possess even if IBM’s Watson and other electronic tools take over many of their current functions. And it comes from the keyboard of Dr. Vikas Saini, president of the Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation and — I’m delighted to report — another Boston health care leader who has stepped up to the online podium.

For bookmarking purposes, here’s his blog. It’s titled “Off the Cuff: A Cardioblog,” but though the Lown Center is renowned for its heart work, Off The Cuff is by no means limited to cardiovascular thoughts. And thank goodness for that. Vikas has a wide-ranging past: Indian origin, youth in Canada, Princeton philosophy major, Johns Hopkins and Harvard clinical and research training. Also, involvement in the medical device industry and in the management side of a big Cape Cod physicians’ group.

“Talking about Skype and video for medicine is like asking the question in 1905, ‘Will the telephone have a role in health care?'”

Put it all together, and he can comment from a personal knowledge base on anything from health care economics to new heart drugs. When he talks about the American “health care bubble,” I feel dark dread. Not that he limits himself to his expertises, though; the blog’s logo is “humani nihil a me alienum puto,” which means “I consider nothing that is human alien to me.” (Thank you, Wikipedia; I didn’t have to resort to Google Translator.)

About the digital shaman: In a post earlier this month titled “Doctors in a brave new world,” Vikas responds to a recent op-ed piece evangelizing a technological revolution in health care that could move “much of health care out of hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, and into our everyday lives,” through home and mobile monitors, remote communication and the like.

Vikas welcomes the technology’s promise, but writes:

The challenge for me is in defining the role of the doctor in that scenario. That depends in part on the bigger question of whether people really want to grapple with their anxiety about mortality (which every illness however mild seems to trigger, even if it is in some primal, subconscious sense) in isolation from other caring human beings. Continue reading

Kara Kennedy’s Death: Q&A On ‘Danger Zone’ After Exercise

Kara Kennedy speaking at the funeral of her father, Ted Kennedy.

Kara Kennedy’s wake is to be held this evening, and her funeral tomorrow. She was the 51-year-old daughter of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, the mother of two and a long-time lung-cancer survivor. She died at her Washington, D.C. health club last Friday of an apparent heart attack, reportedly after her daily work-out.

Her death caught my attention for two reasons. First, the obvious: It was yet another Kennedy death at a tragically young age. The second was more personal: A close relative had just been caught in an oddly similar circumstance.

He’d started feeling woozy and weak right after a work-out, and may have saved his own life by going to the emergency room. It turned out an artery was almost entirely blocked, and he needed a catheterization and a stent. When I mentioned his experience to a colleague, I got an immediate echo: Yes, she said, our co-worker had exactly the same thing happen right after he got off the stairmaster.

Hmmm. Is there a danger zone right after exercise? Why would that be, when the greatest exertion load is already off? I spoke today with Dr. Aaron Baggish, a Massachusetts General Hospital cardiologist and expert on the effects of exercise on the heart and cardiovascular system. (Also himself a competitive runner, and the cardiologist for the Boston Marathon.)

‘Probably 25% of the total workout time should be spent in warm-up and cool-down.’

His edifying explanations follow, but here’s my own takeaway: I am never, ever going to work out again without allowing time for a cool-down period of at least 10 minutes or so. Constantly feeling pressed for time, I tend to skip the warm-up and shortchange the cool-down in favor of getting in my 30-plus minutes of hard cardio. No more.

Note: This is in no way to imply that Kara Kennedy may have failed to cool down properly. She sounds like she was doing everything right for her health. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned for myself, and what sticks in my mind most was the case of a man Aaron just saw in the ICU — a fit, middle-aged man who’d just had a heart attack after playing tennis. In a rush, the man jumped right into a super-competitive match, and the minute it ended, he got into his car, where he started having chest pain. The crux of the problem was that he hadn’t had time to warm up or cool down.

So is there a danger zone right after a workout?

The short answer is yes.

The more complete answer is that there’s no question that routine cardiovascular exercise is the best way to reduce your risk of having a heart problem. The paradox here is that if you do exercise, you’re most likely to have your heart problem either during or immediately after your workout.

There are two reasons for that. One is that people are more likely to notice symptoms, particularly of coronary disease, when exerting themselves. The second is that if people are going to have an acute closure of their coronary arteries, exercise can be the trigger for that.

Why would that be?

The reasons that a coronary artery would suddenly collapse or close up is that a blood clot would form at an area of prior instability.

The process of artery-narrowing involves a collection of cholesterol and blood cells in the wall of the artery. Those areas are weak, the artery wall is weak, and so with the stress of exercise, you’re actually likely to rupture those areas and a blood clot will form there. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: Even Just 15 Minutes May Help Your Heart

It’s kind of a tricky health message to calibrate: The guidelines say you really should try to get in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, or 75 minutes of high-intensity. But even less than that is better than none.

Today we focus on the minimal rather than the optimal. As USA Today reports here:

More research shows that even small amounts of aerobic exercise help lower coronary heart disease risk, according to a review published Monday in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.

The mega-study is part of a growing body of research showing that some physical activity provides health benefits — even when levels fall below the recommended federal guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week…

“The biggest health benefits we saw were for those who went from doing nothing to those doing something small,” says Jacob Sattelmair, author of the new AHA study. “Even a little bit of activity makes a significant difference.”

A little bit means 10 to 15 minutes a day. Sattelmair says the new findings are the first to make quantitative assessments of the amount of physical activity a person needs to reduce risk.

Are You ‘Type D’ (For Distressed)?

A new term has just entered my vocabulary: ‘Type D’ — defined as people “marked by chronic negative emotions, pessimism and social inhibition” who “tend to experience increased levels of anxiety, irritation and depressed mood across situations and time.”

It’s been so useful to have the label “Type A” for the hard-runners who tend to take out their stress on others. Now we have “Type D” for people who direct their stress inward instead — and who, like their Type A counterparts, may run heart risks as a result.

Health journalist Karen Weintraub just tweeted this release on a new paper in an American Heart Association journal. Researchers found that Type D patients had triple the normal risk for cardiovascular problems and triple the normal risk for depression, anxiety and other psychological problems.
Continue reading