DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Where does golf fit on an exercise scale? I play three times a week and on the days I don’t play, I jog. Which is better for me? – A.A.

ANSWER: Golf is good exercise, and it’s even better if golfers carry their clubs and don’t use a golf cart. However, to meet the standard for aerobic exercise, the activity has to involve large muscle groups (the arms or the legs) in continuous action for at least 15 minutes, and the heart rate has to reach a predetermined level. Aerobic exercise is the kind that benefits the heart and lowers blood pressure.

Golf doesn’t fit the description of aerobics. There are too many stops and starts, and lots of time is spent standing and watching the other players hit the ball.

However, it is exercise and it does burn calories, and you are, therefore, keeping your weight in line.

If people carry their clubs, they can expect to burn a couple hundred calories for each hour of play. If nothing else, that keeps fat off the body.

Jogging definitely qualifies as aerobic exercise. The jogger is continuously using large muscles – the legs – and the heart rate definitely rises. Jogging edges out golfing when it comes to heart health.

There’s a part of overall fitness that is often overlooked. That’s strength training. Neither jogging nor golfing is good strength training. Lifting weights is the best way to maintain muscle size. With age, muscles shrink. Weightlifting can halt that process and build muscle. A person need not go at this as a body builder or a power lifter would, but by lifting weights and continuously but slowly increasing the amount of weight lifted, a person assures himself or herself of strong muscles and strong bones throughout life.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I run daily. After running, my hands are swollen. They don’t hurt, but I can’t get the ring off my finger until about an hour after stopping the run. Is this something I should be concerned about? It doesn’t happen at any other time. – R.D.

ANSWER: I bet you run with your elbows straight and your hands down at your thighs. When you run with your arms in this position, the hands move back and forth like a pendulum. The swinging motion creates a force that drives fluid out of the circulation and into the hand tissues. That’s why they swell.

If you bend your elbows so that your hands are at lower-chest level, this won’t happen.

If you continue as you are doing now, that’s still OK. The swelling isn’t a matter of concern.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a pacemaker. I wonder if I can get my heart beating fast enough to qualify as real exercise if I start jogging. My pacemaker is set at 70 beats a minute. I’ve been meaning to ask my doctor, but I forget the question when I have an appointment. Will you answer for me? – P.R.

ANSWER: Most pacemakers stop generating a heartbeat when the heart itself speeds up to meet the demands of exercise.

Newer pacemakers are designed to beat faster when a person exercises. That helps those people whose own hearts are not capable of accelerating the heartbeat. These pacemakers are called adaptive pacers.

You’re going to have to ask your doctor. He or she knows what kind of pacemaker you have.

You can answer your question for yourself. Have you ever taken your pulse when you jog? You can settle the matter by doing so. I know you haven’t started to jog yet, but you can do a little now to see how your heart responds.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Do swimmers need to drink fluids before they swim? – K.O.

ANSWER: Swimmers lose body fluids while swimming – they sweat. Even though they don’t sweat as much as athletes do when they’re exerting on land on a hot day, they still sweat. It’s a way to keep the body cool when muscles are generating so much heat. You can prove this by weighing yourself before and after a swim. Any weight lost is fluid lost.

Yes, swimmers should drink fluids before swimming, just like runners do before running.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 46-year-old male diagnosed with a pilonidal cyst. The doctor recommends surgery. It doesn’t bother me too much. Can I live with it, or should I have the surgery? The doctor says it takes a long time to heal after such surgery, and I drive for a living. I can’t miss much work. – J.S.

ANSWER: In the middle of the lower back, about top-buttock level, is the place where pilonidal cysts form. They’re believed to result from hair being driven into and under the skin. “Pilo” is hair, and “nidal” is nest. The jostling that drivers take makes them susceptible to pilonidal cysts. At one time they were called jeep-driver’s disease.

If the cyst causes pain or is chronically infected and drains all the time, then most people choose to have it removed. If it’s not causing you major problems and you choose not to have surgery, that’s your call. It’s not an unreasonable position.

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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