DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My son is in the seventh grade. He lives for hockey, and so does his father. I worry about him. He’s average size, but some of the boys in his hockey league are much bigger. Do you think hockey is safe for someone age 12? My husband has no doubts. I do. — S.T.

ANSWER: Few sports rival hockey in providing such a wide range of athletic skills and training benefits. It demands periods of intense bursts of energy, with longer intervals of continuous expenditures of moderate amounts of energy. You don’t see hockey players standing around. It’s a wonderful sport, and your son is not too young to participate.

Hockey is a contact sport, so injuries are unavoidable; major injuries are avoidable. Body checking increases the risk of injury. A body check is the use of the shoulders, hips or torso against an opponent who has the puck to stop him and his advance to the goal. It’s legal.

Canadian investigators have shown that junior hockey leagues that allow 11- and 12-year-olds to body check suffer three times the injuries than do those who ban it. Many authorities feel that it should not be permitted until players are 15 or 16. I don’t approve of 12-year-olds body checking.

Concussions are more frequent in hockey than they are in football. Your son’s coach and those officiating at a game must understand what a concussion is and what to do about it. Loss of consciousness is only one sign of a concussion. A hit that makes a player confused, unable to concentrate, slur his speech, be uncoordinated or have a memory lapse counts as a concussion. Young brains are more apt to suffer permanent damage if strict rules on handling concussions are not followed.

This frightening picture that I have painted has probably upset you. Don’t let it. I am completely in favor of children your son’s age participating in a sport that develops strength, agility, coordination and endurance that few other sports match.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am an active 55-year-old woman who enjoys distance swimming, hiking and workouts in the gym. I came down with early arthritis, which called for bilateral hip replacements and a knee replacement. The surgeries have been a blessing.

I’d like to return to playing competitive tennis. Would this be a problem? My orthopedist advises to use caution but resume activities as I can tolerate them. My physical therapist feels tennis is not a good idea. What is your advice? — L.M.

ANSWER: Your orthopedist knows your joints and your implants better than anyone else. However, the word “competitive” is a little troubling. Recreational tennis is a safer goal — in other words, low-impact tennis. And I would stop at the first inkling of trouble. Swimming is definitely less hazardous to your new joints than is tennis.

TO READERS: The booklet on aerobics and fitness outlines how to start an exercise program. To obtain a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 1301, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My resting heart rate is 44-48 beats a minute. How can I attain a realistic target heart rate zone during cardio workouts? — R.R.

ANSWER: A normal heart rate is 50 to 100 beats a minute at rest. Most people’s heart rate is in the 60 to 80 beat range. If your doctor doesn’t know about your slow heart rate, he or she should. You shouldn’t exercise until the doctor says it’s OK. You don’t need a target heart rate zone. Let your body tell you if the exercise is pushing you enough. Your perception of the difficulty of exercise is as valid as any numerical heart rate.

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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