DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a woman in her mid-40s who jogs, swims, bikes and plays volleyball and tennis regularly. Friends tell me I am headed for arthritis because someone my age should not be doing so much exercise. Joints can’t take it at this age. Should I listen to them? – S.D.

ANSWER: No. Don’t listen to them.

There’s no evidence that exercise hurts healthy joints. It’s true that many competitive athletes suffer from severe arthritis toward the ends of their careers, but that’s usually because their joints have sustained major injuries. That’s especially true for football players.

If bones are out of line, exercise can bring on arthritis. However, a person knows that something bad is happening. His or her joint or joints hurt. No one should exercise a joint that’s painful.

Exercise is prevention against arthritis. It keeps joints limber. It strengthens muscles. Strong muscles next to a joint protect the joint. They absorb stress on the joint, and they keep a joint from wobbling out of its normal position.

Are the mid-40s considered advanced age? I look at that from a very different perspective.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When icing an injury, what’s considered a good length of time to keep the ice on? Can you cause damage by leaving it on too long? – N.P.

ANSWER: Ice an acutely injured knee or elbow or any joint for 15 to 20 minutes. Ice constricts blood vessels and limits bleeding and swelling. It also serves as an anesthetic.

If you leave ice on too long, it freezes tissues just as frostbite does.

You can make icing even safer by placing a cloth between the skin and the ice. The cloth should be about as thick as a dish towel.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Would using a heavier-than-normal golf club during practice increase the speed of my swing? I don’t get any distance on my drives, and I am told it’s because my swing has no speed. When I swing the club fast, I always seem to hit the ball poorly. What do you think of the heavier-than-normal club idea? – J.A.

ANSWER: I think it might work. I don’t have any evidence to back that up, but it makes sense to me. Baseball players often use a heavier bat during practice, and it seems to help them.

I would tell you to start a weightlifting program to increase your swing power. In fact, I will tell you to do so. However, I should tell you a little-appreciated fact: Strength obtained from lifting weights doesn’t always translate into increased power in specific sport moves.

To increase the power of a particular muscle movement, the muscles must be exercised in exactly the same motion they are engaged in when performing the sport move. For golfers, that would mean exercising the muscles employed in swinging a club in the same way they move during an ordinary golf swing on the golf course. Muscles have a limited ability to transfer new power to movements that are not exactly the same as the movements used during exercise. They react only in the way they were trained to react.

I like the weighted golf club idea. Try it. I think it will work. Let me know. If it makes you swing awkwardly, abandon the experiment. That will totally mess you up.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a very athletic daughter who also happens to be a vegetarian. Does her vegetarian diet provide sufficient calories and nutrition to support strenuous athletics? – F.W.

ANSWER: It can. How strict a vegetarian is she? Does she drink milk and eat eggs? What does she weigh?

If her weight is below normal for her age or if she is tired all the time, then her diet might not be providing enough calories, vitamins and minerals. If her weight is normal and she’s peppy, it is providing enough nutrition.

Your daughter would do well to discuss her diet with a trained dietitian. Many vegetarians don’t understand what they’re doing or how to do it correctly.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: It’s impossible for me to get a decent night’s sleep. I go to bed around 11 p.m. and doze off without any trouble. I am awake again at 2 a.m. and cannot fall back to sleep for an hour or more. When I do fall asleep, I stay asleep only to 5:30 a.m. I don’t have to rise until 7:30 a.m. I get five or, at most, six hours of sleep a night.

Do you have any suggestions? Please don’t suggest sleeping pills. I don’t want to take them. – R.M.

ANSWER: You can try a regimen that has worked for some who suffer from the same kind of sleep disturbance you have. For the next week, record the number of hours you sleep every night – the exact number. Then find the average number of hours slept. If you sleep only five hours and if you have to get up at 7:30 a.m., don’t go to bed until 2:30 a.m.

That sounds very late, but that’s the way this program works. When you’ve done that for three nights, move your bedtime to 15 minutes earlier – 2:15 a.m.

Every three days keep moving your bedtime back 15 minutes until you’re sleeping eight hours or enough hours that leave you refreshed for a full day’s work.

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


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