DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 76. I find it difficult to get up from low-slung furniture. Are there exercises that could help me strengthen my legs? – L.P.

ANSWER: Sarcopenia (SAR-coe-PEA-nee-uh) is a recently coined word that describes what happens to everyone with age — a loss of muscle strength.

Strength peaks at about age 25, and by age 50, there’s a 10 percent loss of strength.

By 80, the loss approaches 50 percent.

There is only one way to prevent sarcopenia, and that is through lifting weights.

It’s the only way to regain strength once it has been lost.

There is no age limit for this sort of exercise. It can be done into the 90s.

You need strong thigh muscles to rise from a low chair. The muscles on the front of the thigh are the most important muscles to focus on.

While seated in a chair, lift your legs so they are straight in front of you and parallel to the floor.

Hold them there for a count of five and then slowly let them return to the floor.

Repeat 10 times in a row. When you can handle that without any trouble, attach 1-pound weights to your lower leg just above the ankle.

You can find them in any sporting-goods store. They come with Velcro straps to secure them onto the legs.

Bending the knees while standing is another good thigh-muscle exercise.

You bend until the thighs are parallel to the ground.

Do not do this by yourself. Have a partner at your side and at the ready to catch you should you lose your balance. Ten squats — as this exercise is called — are more than enough at the start.

For people of all ages who would like to start an exercise program, the fitness pamphlet outlines a safe, effective method of doing so. Write to: Dr. Donohue — No. 1301, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I read that sports injuries should initially be treated by applying cold and later heat. I also read that heat and cold should be alternated to promote healing. Who is right? – B.B.

For the first two days after an injury, cold minimizes swelling. Then a person can turn to heat treatment.

Alternating cold and heat is called “contrast baths,” and it can begin on the third day after an injury.

Let’s use the ankle as a convenient example.

Get two buckets. One has warm water at 100 to 110 F (37.8 to 43 C); the other, water at 55 to 65 F (13 to 18 C). First put the foot and injured ankle in the cold water and keep them there for four minutes. Then submerge them in the warm water for one minute. Continue this drill for 15 to 20 minutes and end with the cold water.

Contrast baths are said to pump fluid out of the injured area, relieve pain and enhance healing.

Is this better than immersion only in hot water on the third day after an injury? Only you can decide.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 27. I have been getting chest pains when I run.

Could this mean heart trouble?

Aren’t I too young for that? If it’s not my heart, what could it be? – M.A.

For people younger than 35, heart trouble is only rarely the cause of chest pain. But it can happen, and no age is too young for it to occur.

Pete Marovich, the basketball star, pops into mind. He died of a heart problem at age 40 while playing basketball.

For someone your age, the cause of chest pain could be chest muscle strain.

Rest takes care of that. Or it could be that you suffered trauma to your breastbone or ribs. An inflammation of the lung covering — pleuritis — is another possibility.

Inflammation of the cartilage that attaches ribs to breastbone can cause chest pain.

You must see your doctor. Heart problems are always possible.

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.

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