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Health Talk: Fitness for Healing
Hosted by Craig Stoltz
Washington Post Health Editor

Tuesday, May 2, 2 p.m. EDT

Craig Stoltz
Craig Stoltz

Carol Krucoff, co-author of the new book HEALING MOVES and author of our bi-weekly Bodyworks column, will answer your questions on how exercise can be used to treat or prevent common and serious conditions.

Carol is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and co-wrote "Healing Moves" with her husband, Dr. Mitchell Krucoff, M.D. Their book reveals specific exercises can be powerful therapy and have the potential to treat life-threatening and chronic illnesses.

Please read the transcript below for today's Health Talk.


Craig Stoltz: Good afternoon, and welcome to another edition of Health Talk. Today's guest, Carol Krucoff, should be familiar to regular readers of the Health section. She was the section's founding editor some 15 years ago, and for the last many years has been the BodyWorks columnist, covering fitness and exercise. Now she's co-authored, with her husband Mitchell Krucoff, M.D. "Healing Moves: How to Cure, Relieve and Prevent Common Ailments with Exercise." Today she's agreed to handle questions not only about today's cover story on breathing properly, but on any type of exercise you may have a question about. All that said, let's get started.

San Francisco, CA: What exercises would help me boost my sex-drive?

Carol Krucoff: It's been touted in the locker rooms for years that getting fit improves your love life, and research supports this. In general, aerobic activities you enjoy, that will help reduce stress and boost self-confidence and self-esteem can help improve your sex life.

Washington, DC: Are there any physical activities that can help alter the chemical desire to smoke? Activities that can be done to eventaully help me quit would be helpful as well.

Carol Krucoff: Walking programs have been shown to help women quit smoking, according to research by Bess Marcus in Rhode Island. Some of this is attributed to the weight reduction involved with regular walking programs--many women are reluctant to quit smoking because they fear gaining weight. Numerous studies have shown that aerobic activity, done regularly, has a "granola effect"--that is it helps people adopt other healthy lifestyle behaviors such as quitting smoking.

dc: Thank you for the article about breathing. I've known for a long time that I don't breathe right, but reading about it doesn't seem to help. Are there any local breathing trainers?

Also, what exercises can I do to avoid shin splints. I'm trying to start a running program.

Carol Krucoff: To learn breathing from an expert, take a good yoga class. Unity Woods, in Bethesda, and several other Washington-area locations, has excellent instructors. Breathing is a fundamental component of yoga, so should be part of any good yoga class.

Washington, DC: Do the breathing exercises help people deal mentally with major diseases, such as cancer, or actually help the body fight the disease?

Carol Krucoff: Breathing exercises can help people fight some diseases--such as asthma--directly and can indirectly help the body fight other diseases like cancer, by reducing stress. The immune system is exquisitely sensitive to stress, which is why breathing exercises and other mind-body techniques may help fight stress-related diseases by activating the immune system.

Craig Stoltz: Carol, in response to the first question you mentioned aerobic exercise generally. But I've also heard that some cases of impotence are caused by poor blood flow that is triggered by the same conditions that cause arthosclerosis. So maybe the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, for some men, are more than general energy and self-esteem, but maybe physical performance?

Carol Krucoff: Yes, it's true that impotence can be a signal that the cardiovascular system isn't functioning properly and that exercise may help improve sexual functioning in part by improving blood flow to all parts of the body--including the penis.

College Park, Md.: I've got arthritis, and my doctor tells me not to do any exercise that's painful. My knees hurt when I walk, but I enjoy it anyway. Am I doing any harm to my knees by walking? And is it right that I should avoid exercise with arthritis?

Carol Krucoff: Decades ago, people with arthritis were told not to exercise to "save their joints". Today, it's well known and accepted that getting regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for arthritis. If walking hurts on land, try walking in the water. On land, make sure you're wearing good shoes and walking on a good surface.

Craig Stoltz: Still taking questions on exercise/fitness and disease for Carol Krucoff. . . .

Craig Stoltz: Carol, what are some of the more surprising exercise "treatments" for certain conditions that you've discovered in your research for this book?

Carol Krucoff: One of the more surprising exercise "treatments" is the one mentioned in today's cover story about breathing. The variety of conditions that can be positively affected by something as simple as deep, diaphragmatic breathing is astounding--cardiac arrhythmias, insomnia, PMS, infertility. Considering that breathing is our most basic instinct, it's astonishing that most Westerners don't know how to breathe correctly.

Craig Stoltz: Carol, a reader earlier asked you about exercise for those who have shin splints. Any suggestions?

Carol Krucoff: Shin splints is a sort of "catch all" diagnosis for pain in the shins and often it's associated with overuse--or excessive exercise. so the treatment is typically to back off a new exercise that may have prompted the condition, then get back into that activity slowly and progressively over time. Shin splints are often associated with high-impact activity, so it's important to be wearing good shoes that are right for your sport. Also, ice the shins after exercise.

Craig Stoltz: So Carol: What kind of exercise do you do to stay healthy?

Carol Krucoff: Over the years I've done many different kinds of exercise to stay healthy. I used to dance extensively, and for many years I was a regular runner. Today I take my dog on a three-mile walk everyday, lift weights two to three times a week and take and teach karate class two to four times a week--and I also do yoga stretches almost every day.

Craig Stoltz: Your book tells us why we ought to exercise, and how we might benefit. But the tough part for most people is sticking with a program. Any hints for working exercise into our lives short of signing up for a formal class?

Carol Krucoff: The single best piece of advice I have for sticking with a program is to find something you enjoy. If exercise is fun, it will get done. it's easy to make excuses to skip exercise if the program isn't something you love--if you love it, you find a way to get there. For those who don't have the time or won't make the time for a formal exercise program or class, it can be just as beneficial to add exercise into your day--such as by taking the stairs, walking to the store, parking in the farthest space. Studies at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research show that these "lifestyle activities" can be as healthful as a traditional, gym-based exercise program.

Craig Stoltz: Is there a difference between "weight-bearing" exercise and weight lifting? I hear the terms used sometimes interchangeably. Who should be sure to do "weight bearing" exercise?

Carol Krucoff: Yes, there's a difference between weight-bearing exercises and weight lifting. A weight bearing exercises is one in which you move the body against gravity--walking, running, climbing stairs--are all weight-bearing exercises. To help prevent osteoporosis, the higher the impact, the greater the forces on the bone. So exercises involving jumping are better (for those who can tolerate them) than low-impact exercises. Weight training exercises--sometimes called strength training exercises or weight lifting--involve working the muscles against resistance, such as a dumbbell or barbell or strength training machine. Both of these kinds of exercises, weight bearing and weight training, are important for anyone interested in preventing and treating osteoporosis.

washington: Is walking a good alternative to actual exercise? I mean, can I get away with just walking a couple miles a day?

Carol Krucoff: Yes, walking a couple miles a day is a great way to improve your health. Many people don't like the word exercise because it conjures up visions of the "Gym Teacher from Hell" or being picked last for a sports team. That's why many health and fitness professionals avoid the "e-word" and say "physical activity" or "movement". The Surgeon General's report has this simple prescription: Accumulate 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day. that's all you need for health benefits. for fitness benefits, like substantial weight loss, you may need to do more.

The District: I sprained my ankle about a year ago. It still "pops" every now and then. Will it ever get better? And are there exercises I can do to increase its strength? (I'd love to play squash again but am too afraid!)

Carol Krucoff: Once you injure a joint it will never be the same--however you can significantly improve its condition by doing exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting the joint and by doing stretching. I'd see a physical therapist for an individualized program that will get you playing squash again--perhaps with the aid of tape or a brace, at first.

Bowie, Md.: Hi Carol. Hi Craig. I just had a physical and my doctor told me that everything looked good...except for the fact that my good cholesterol was too low (37). He told me I should exercise more. Is there anything in particular I could do to make the good cholesterol higher?

Carol Krucoff: Yes, regular aerobic exercise is associated with increases in the "good" HDL cholesterol. Do some form of moderate to somewhat hard-intensity aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes, most days of the week. Anything aerobic you like is fine--walking, swimming, jogging, dancing, rowing, running, cross country skiing--it's your choice.

Washington: What about kids? Any tips for getting them moving? I'm afraid my youngster may never pick up the exercise bug, and will have health problems as a result.

Carol Krucoff: Turn off the TV. or at least limit the amount of TV they watch. Then, find an activity THEY enjoy (even if it's not the one you'd pick) some kids like team sports--baseball, soccer, etc. others hate them --for them try martial arts, cycling, swimming or other individual sports. And BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL! Do activity things as a family. take hikes, go to the swimming pool, walk the dog together.

Washington: Is it better to stretch before exercising or after exercising?

Carol Krucoff: If you only have time to stretch once, stretch after exercising--then your muscles will be nice and warm and you'll be able to stretch deeper and relieve some of the muscle tension from your exercise. however it's a good idea to stretch before exercise too--but only after you've warmed up the muscle by doing some gentle movements first.

ARLINGTON: I want to boost my metabolism (im about 20 lbs overwt.) If I want JUST ONE exercise that will help me BURN WEIGHT, what do i do?

Carol Krucoff: Boosting metabolism is a complex process that involves a variety of factors. If you want just ONE exercise, I'd pick any aerobic activity you like, done regularly--that means on most days of the week--for at least 30 minutes. However strength training is also very effective in boosting metabolism because the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate. In our book, "Healing Moves," we present a program of healing moves to boost the metabolism that includes aerobic activity, weight training and stress reduction practices.

Arlington, Va.: Carol, I know I'm at risk for osteoporosis (middle-aged, small-boned woman) -- any tips for me, exercise-wise? I know weight-bearing is good, but I don't have time to go to a gym and prefer taking walks. Does stair-climbing and other cardio-type stuff help me at all with bone mass?

Carol Krucoff: Taking walks is very useful in building bone mass, particularly if you've walked daily over long periods of time. A higher-impact activity--such as step aerobics or running-- if you can tolerate it, can give you even more bone-building benefit. Strength training, as little as two times a week, can be very helpful and you don't have to go to a gym. Get some dumbbells and a few ankle weights, and see the "Healing Moves to Build Muscles and Bones" in my book.

Gaithersburg Maryland: What is the best way to relieve stress related headaches?

Carol Krucoff: Deep, diaphramatic breathing can be helpful to relieve stress-related headaches. See the "breathing lessons" presented in today's health section and follow the "restorative breathing" exercise, in which you lie down and wrap your forehead and eyes with an ACE bandage. this can be a great headache reliever!

Office-bound in DC: Hi Carol. I hate exercise -- I like to lie around and read. Should I be worried about my health? I really feel fine, am not overweight, have a good energy level, eat right, etc -- why should I have to feel guilty about not exercising??

Carol Krucoff: You don't say how old you are. If you're in your 20s or 30s, you can probably get away with being totally sedentary. But as you get into middle age, the body is much less forgiving about an unhealthy lifestyle and you will begin to lose muscle mass, bone density and function of your joints if you continue to be a sofa spud. It's a lot easier to stay fit than to get fit, so it's wise to do some activity now. Pick something you like--you don't have to go to a gym if you don't like gyms. Walk, dance, run, cycle, skate, ski, hike, swim--do any activity you like, just move! The body is mean to move and if you don't use it, you'll lose it!

Craig Stoltz: Carol, thanks again for joining us today and sharing your ideas about exercise with our online visitors. (Carol was far too polite to mention that her book is available from amazon.com or any fine bookstore, but I'm not.) You all can see Carol's Bodyworks column bi-weekly in the Health section. And we'll see you again online, next week at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, for another session of Health talk. Now turn off the computer and go get some exercise, OK?

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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