April 28, 2009 [Volume 3, Issue 11]
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In this issue of To Your Health:
Start Them Off Right
The Lowdown on Energy Drinks
Healthy Aging

Start Them Off Right

Kids pick up the latest fitness magazine and start training like their favorite athletes do, thinking they can be just like them if they push hard enough. Unfortunately, their bodies are usually not ready for this level of training, and they can easily develop abnormal patterns of muscle movement and function. These abnormal patterns inhibit athletic performance and, if left uncorrected, may cause permanent injury. Let's review the five biggest exercise mistakes youngsters can make, along with some safe and effective alternatives.

Mistake #1: Starting Weight Training Too Soon. Although injuries can occur at any age, youngsters in their preteen and early teen years are particularly vulnerable, especially to vigorous, repetitive movement, because of the way their bones grow. Ligaments and tendons are also prone to irritation and tearing when muscles shorten, causing lack of mobility and stability. So, what is a safer and more effective way of getting stronger without weight training? The answer is so simple, yet so effective and easy to do anywhere: body-weight training, which is a fundamental way to build stamina, strength, power and speed.

Mistake #2: Ignoring Flexibility and Stretching. Lack of proper stretching before and after physical exercise is a primary cause of unnecessary injury. The body must be properly warmed up and primed for maximum physical performance and recovery. Without proper blood flow and joint lubrication, the risk of injury is drastically increased. The most effective stretching techniques for athletes of any age are called myofascial release and active isolated stretching. Myofascial release involves rolling muscles over a cylindrical foam tube to increase blood flow and tissue flexibility. Active stretching uses ropes or bands to elongate muscles and prevent over-lengthening and tearing.

Mistake #3: Overtraining. Hard training breaks you down and makes you weaker. Rest makes you stronger. Physiologic improvement only occurs during the rest period following hard training. If sufficient rest is not included in a training program, regeneration cannot occur and performance plateaus. If this imbalance between excess training and inadequate rest persists, performance will decline. Ensuring adequate rest and recovery is the best way to avoid overtraining syndrome and its consequences. The longer the overtraining takes place, the more rest is required.

Mistake #4: Unsupervised Group Training. The biggest rage in gyms and sports performance facilities is to have a group of kids working out together under the direction of one trainer. Although this can be motivational and inspiring for the kids, not to mention financially successful for the trainer, it may foster injury and poor performance. Proper assessments must be done by the training facility to ensure that groups have a combination of equal fitness ability. It's OK to be inspired to improve, but not at the expense of proper technique and training strategies. If your child exercises in a group setting, makes sure the trainer includes a "breakout routine" with one-on-one sessions to assess your child's progress and share the results with you.

Mistake #5: Lack of Agility and Coordination Training. Agility training enhances the natural joint proprioceptors in ligaments, which give your body a sense of position. This is critical to ensure all the muscles of the body work together as a functioning unit, as opposed to working against each other. Coordination, the ability to move the arms, legs and other parts of the body smoothly and in unison, is another important element of proper exercise training. Without proper coordination and balance, children will perform more poorly in sports and increase their risk of injury due to an unnecessary slip, trip or fall.

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The Lowdown on Energy Drinks

Energy drinks constitute big business these days. While Austrian-based Red Bull claims to own the lion's share of the market, all signs point to that dominance changing in the near future. Monster, Adrenaline Rush, Venom and 5-Hour Energy are just a few of the estimated thousands of energy drink distributors worldwide, and they're everywhere: in stores, schools, gyms and all manner of social environments.

Suffice it to say the popularity of these drinks is unquestionable; their health benefits is another story altogether. The big concern with the majority of energy drinks is their caffeine content: up to 80 mg of caffeine. According to Brown University, that's more than twice the caffeine in a can of Mountain Dew and more than three times the caffeine in a can of Coca Cola Classic. Why is this important? Because too much caffeine can elevate the heart rate, increase blood pressure, and lead to insomnia (Some energy drink manufacturers have now come out with decaffeinated versions, although that hasn't seemed to particularly impact the popularity of the caffeinated varieties.)

A recent study that investigated potential safety issues in energy drinks reveal that most energy drinks also contain some combination of natural products such as guarana, taurine and ginseng. Oh, and let's not forget about sugar, one of the major ingredients in addition to caffeine. Average sugar content can exceed 35 grams per can, according to the study, published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. (Sugar-free versions of some energy drinks are now available, but remember, there are plenty of sugar-free sodas out there, and none of them are any good for you, either.)

Here's perhaps the most telling point emphasized in the study: "The amounts of guarana, taurine, and ginseng found in popular energy drinks are far below the amounts expected to deliver either therapeutic benefits or adverse events. However, caffeine and sugar are present in amounts known to cause a variety of adverse health effects."

Talk to your doctor about the dangers associated with sugar, caffeine and empty calories, and discuss ways to develop a balanced nutritional program to keep you and your family healthy.

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Healthy Aging

As we age, changes take place in our body systems. Cellular processes slow down, and our organs and tissues become less robust in performing their tasks and functions. From head to toe beginning as early as the second decade of life, believe it or not, our body systems begin to demonstrate signs of old age. That's the bad news; the good news is the diseases and disabilities of human aging are largely preventable and treatable. Evidence suggests we can delay or minimize these age-related changes with appropriate diet, exercise and lifestyle modifications. Here are a few natural ways to maintain youth and vitality with age, according to the latest research.

Maintain Your Metabolism: In a study involving 11 older men and 31 older women, all of whom were overweight and sedentary at the start of the study, the research team assigned each to one of three groups for 16 weeks: a reduced-calorie diet only, a supervised exercise regimen only, or a combination of reduced-calorie diet plus the exercise program. At the conclusion of the study period, all three groups lost weight, but only the diet-plus- exercise group improved their fitness levels, boosted their fat-burning capacity and minimized loss of muscle mass.

Go With the Flow: In a study involving 506 older Swedes, Hui-Xin Wang, of the Karolinska Institutet, and colleagues made an interesting discovery: men and women who were socially outgoing, but not easily distressed by circumstances, were 49 percent less likely to develop dementia over time, as compared to those who were extroverted but neurotic. A calm personality also was associated with a 49 percent reduced dementia risk in those who were not socially active compared to those who were stay-at-homes, but prone to distress.

Bone Up on Bone Health: Katherine Tucker, from Tufts University in Massachusetts, and colleagues studied 213 men and 390 women, each age 75 and older, for four years and found that an increased intake of carotenoids, and particularly lycopene (found in foods such as tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit) was associated with some level of protection against losses in bone mineral density (BMD) at the lumbar spine in women, and at the hip in men. In addition, male hip BMD was also associated with intakes of total carotenoids, beta-carotene, and lutein plus zeaxanthin.

Exercise Your Brain: A study on mice conducted by researchers at the National Cheng Kung University Medical College (Taiwan) suggests exercise can reverse the age-related decline in the production of neural stem cells in the brain's hippocampus. The study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in November 2008, suggests exercise promotes the production of neurotrophic factors and receptors, which then promote the production and maturation of new stem cells. While exercise enhanced stem cell production and maturation in middle-age mice, researchers note that the strongest beneficial effect was seen in younger mice.

Take control of your health destiny today by understanding how your body systems age and what you can do about it. Talk to your doctor for more information on natural ways to maintain health into your golden years.

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