DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I’m a 63-year-old woman interested in getting rid of some flab and limbering up my joints. I have some osteoarthritis. A friend has asked me to join her in yoga classes. Do you think I’ll get anything out of them? How about my arthritis? – J.W.

ANSWER: As a beginner and as an arthritic, you have to ask whoever is in charge of the class some pointed questions. You don’t want an advanced yoga class where there can be some big demands on joints. A beginner’s class, however, ought to do everything you want. It can help you control your weight and limber your joints.

Entry yoga combines deep, controlled breathing that helps people relax with simple movements in assuming specific poses. The movements increase flexibility and improve posture. Older women find their spines bending due to osteoporosis. Yoga helps to counter that.

Yoga also gives people more energy and helps them sleep better.

Believe it or not, it combats low back pain, something that is all but unavoidable during life.

As far as weight loss, yoga might not be the most calorie-burning exercise there is, but it burns enough calories to keep you from gaining weight. For every minute of yoga exercise, 3.5 calories are burned. That’s 105 calories in half an hour, a considerable amount of calories.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: For the past several years, I have worked out at the local YMCA three times a week. I ride a stationary bicycle for 20 minutes, lift weights on the weight machines and finish up with a swim.

I am 85 years old and have recently been diagnosed with emphysema, although I stopped smoking 33 years ago.

Should I continue working out? I don’t know whether the workouts contribute to chest discomfort or whether it is my imagination. – D.F.

ANSWER: Everything was going fine up to the point of “chest discomfort.” Does this discomfort come on while you are exercising and leave when you stop? If the answer is yes, then stop all exercise until you see your doctor and give him or her the opportunity to examine your heart; he or she might want you to have a stress test.

If the discomfort is only mild and comes as an aftermath of your exercise, then you need not worry quite so much. If you believe the diagnosis of emphysema means you have to stop exercising, you do not. People with emphysema are encouraged to exercise. Your emphysema has to be minimal, or you wouldn’t be able to complete the grueling regimen you describe. Emphysema is not made worse by exercise. Nor does it usually cause chest pain.

Check this with your doctor. I would like to give you 100 percent assurance that all is well and that you should continue just as you are. I can’t do that from a letter. Only a direct examination allows a doctor to be sure exercise is not the source of your discomfort.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a senior citizen living in a low-cost housing establishment. I can walk up all five flights of stairs without stopping.

By pulling myself up the stairs with one or two hands, would I be getting greater benefit since I would be working my arms more, and would I be expending more energy? – A.V.

ANSWER: Stair climbing is an excellent workout. Every fall, you see football players running up and down the stairs of stadiums. Walking up five flights of stairs is not an easy task. If you can do so without pain or shortness of breath, and if your doctor has approved this exercise, stay with it.

Pulling yourself up the stairs with your hands would indeed work your arms, shoulders and chest muscles and would be a more arduous exercise. Arm exercise is always more demanding than pure leg exercise. Let your doctor know what you plan to do. Have someone take a picture of you doing it and send it to me. I think you can patent a new exercise technique.

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

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