DEAR DR. DONOHUE: As a construction worker, I do lots of heavy work — digging, pouring cement and carpentry — in hot weather. I would like to know how much and what kinds of liquids are best for me to drink. Some of my fellow workers say water is all you need. Others say you should drink sports drinks. Which is it? And how long does it take to get used to the heat? — R.C.
ANSWER: It takes one to two weeks to fully acclimatize to the heat. You should take things slowly in those weeks. Your company would be wise to lessen the workload and provide workers with fluids and plenty of breaks in the shade.
The matter of fluid intake is as important to workers like you as it is to athletes performing in high heat and high humidity. For short work periods in hot, humid weather — periods of an hour to two hours — pace yourself. You can rehydrate your body with plain water. Ice water helps keep body temperature from rising too high.
For longer work periods, you have to make up sodium and potassium losses that arise when sweating. If a person limits himself to drinking only water, there is a danger that the person will develop a sodium deficit that can be dangerous for the brain. In one hour of moderate exertion, the amount of sweat lost ranges between a little more than half a quart and a little more than a quart (0.5 to 1 liter). Plain water is fine.
For prolonged exercise, sports drinks containing sodium and potassium are the preferred rehydrating liquid. If you want, you can make your own sports drink. Add half a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of baking soda along with three tablespoons of sugar to one quart of water. For a full day of work, you'll need three quarts to play it safe.
You can meet your potassium requirement by eating a banana or an orange. You'll have to have more than one of each.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Some time ago you wrote about how taking 10,000 steps a day can help you lose weight, lower blood sugar and lower blood pressure. I have done this ever since I read the article. You also mentioned that "if you want to be really healthy, you have to add some resistance exercises." Could you recommend what ones and how often to do them? — S.B.
ANSWER: The "10,000 steps a day" come from Dr. David Satcher, the surgeon general in the early 2000s. That number of steps is roughly equivalent to five miles. Nothing is said about stride length or the speed of walking. It's a rough guide to stay aerobically healthy — improve the heart, the circulation and blood pressure.
Resistance exercise is weightlifting exercise. If you belong to a gym, the problem is solved. If you don't, then getting a barbell and some dumbbells will be necessary. I don't know your age or your general health, so ask your doctor if this is safe for you. If it is, begin with light weight, 5 or 10 pounds. For the legs, place the barbell behind your neck and let it rest on your shoulders. Then do squats, bending the knees until the thighs are parallel to the floor. For the arms, do arm curls. The arms are hanging down at the side of your thighs holding onto the barbell. Bend the elbows so the barbell comes up to the shoulder. Choose a weight you can lift consecutively eight times. You can find a weightlifting instruction book at any bookstore for a reasonable price.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have some suggestions for the man who was concerned about his turkey neck. Stand tall. Look over the left shoulder, inhale, exhale and move the head to look over the right shoulder. Use a stretch cord. Place it under the chin, holding it firmly up with both hands. Push downward against resistance. Transfer the cord to behind the head and push head back against resistance. — N.W.
ANSWER: OK, I'll pass it along and hope it works. If it does, I'll give you full credit.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.