DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have never exercised in my life. I am a 65-year-old woman, and I have been inspired to start a program both for health and for weight loss. How do I go about it? – D.T.

Aerobic exercise is the foundation for health-based exercise programs. It is the kind of exercise that increases the lungs’ capacity to inhale oxygen, the heart’s capacity to pump it and the arteries’ capacity to deliver it. Aerobic exercise is exercise that keeps large muscles contracting for a definite time period. Examples are walking, jogging, riding and swimming. There are many more. Dancing qualifies.

The health benefits of such exercise are a lowering of blood pressure, an increase of heart pumping ability, a decrease of blood cholesterol and a loss of weight from calorie burning.

The first place to start an exercise program is your doctor’s office. No one, especially an older person unused to exercise, should embark on a somewhat strenuous course without a doctor checking the heart to see if it is up to the stress.

Intensity of exercise is gauged by how fast people get their hearts beating. A standard formula for ascertaining the heart rate that constitutes aerobic exercise – which varies from person to person – begins with subtracting your age from 220. Then take 60 percent and 85 percent of that number to set the lower and upper limits of the rate your exercising heart should attain. Another formula entails multiplying your age by 0.7 and subtracting the result from 208. Again, 60 percent and 85 percent of that number set the lower and upper limits of what your heart rate should be. Don’t get hung up on formulas. You can judge for yourself if you are putting enough energy into the exercise. If the exercise feels somewhat hard, then you are exercising with enough gusto. The exercise need not be at a level that makes it impossible to carry on a conversation.

Exercise as many days a week as you can, and exercise for at least half an hour. It does not have to be a full half-hour of exercise. You can break it into 10- or 15-minute intervals.

Readers who would like a detailed guide to exercise can order a copy of the fitness pamphlet by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 1301, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6.50 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My son is a high-school wrestler. He has a sore spot on his upper chest that turned out to be herpes. I am floored. Is this the same herpes as the sexual infection? Will he ever be able to wrestle again? – C.N.

Your son has a herpes-1 infection, the same virus that causes a cold sore. The herpes-2 virus is the virus of the sexually transmitted herpes.

The skin-to-skin contact that is part of wrestling is an ideal way to pass skin infections, herpes included. This sort of herpes is called herpes gladiatorum – gladiator’s herpes. About 3 percent of high-school wrestlers have it, and about 7 percent of college wrestlers are infected.

Your son should not wrestle when he has a sore. He can at all other times. If he has frequent relapses of the skin sore, he can take medicine to shorten the time of infection or to prevent relapses. Valacyclovir and famciclovir are examples.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am shrinking. I am a 79-year-old man, and I have lost a full inch of my height. Where did it go, and what can I do to stop it? – E.V.

Your backbones are shriveling. It happens to everyone. It is due to osteoporosis, and men get it as well as women. Sometimes one of the backbones collapses, and that brings on pain and a sudden loss of height.

You can stop the process by getting 1,200 mg of calcium every day along with 600 IU of vitamin D. Those are the recommended doses for people 70 and older. And you must exercise.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What causes the annoying itching inside the ear canal, and what can be done for it? – S.W.

Many things cause itchy ear canals, and getting rid of the itch depends on identifying the cause.

Eczema can spring up in the ear canal – the very same eczema that more commonly targets other areas of the skin. Eczema is maddeningly itchy. Scratching brings an instant of blissful relief, but the itch always comes back and usually with greater ferocity.

Eczema often responds to ointments or liquids of the cortisone family of drugs.

Allergies are another frequent cause, and antihistamines can control them.

A form of scalp dandruff, seborrhea, can crop up on the skin of the ear canal. It too is itchy, and it too responds to cortisone ointments or liquids.

Swimmer’s ear results from water trapped in the ear canal. Itching can be one of its symptoms. Here a solution made with equal parts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol can put an end to the problem. The itcher puts a couple of drops into the ear canal, lets them remain there for two or three minutes and then turns the head toward the shoulder to drain the drops. This procedure is repeated for a total of three times a day. If the solution hurts, stop it immediately, drain the drops from the ear, and make an appointment with the family doctor.

Ear canal infections can produce a tormenting itch. Antibiotic drops or salves can generally take care of them. A doctor must make this diagnosis.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What would make a high uric acid level? I am a 70-year-old lady. – J.V.

A high blood level of uric acid is often a prelude to gout. Uric acid diffuses from the blood into joints, where it forms crystals that produce the horrific pain of a gout attack.

The excessive blood uric acid level comes from the body’s overproduction of it or from the kidneys’ inadequate filtration of it from the blood.

When to treat a high blood uric acid level is often a difficult decision.

Can diet help? A little. Steer clear of anchovies, kidney, liver, sweetbreads, gravy, herring, sardines and alcohol.

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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