Massages don't improve anyone's fitness


March 19, 1991|By Gabe Mirkin, M.D. | Gabe Mirkin, M.D.,United Feature Syndicate

Most people believe a vigorous rubdown will make them more fit. While it is true that getting a massage will not harm you and can make you feel wonderful, the only way a massage can make you fit is to have it done while you're exercising.

Fitness refers to the strength of your heart. Getting a massage will not make your heart stronger. To become fit, you need to exercise actively enough to significantly increase the circulation of blood through your body. A massage can increase the circulation of blood to your skin enough to make it turn red, but it won't increase the flow of blood to your heart enough to make you fit.

Getting a massage will not help you lose weight, either. Fat cannot be pinched, squeezed, rubbed or pummeled from your body. The only way to get rid of unwanted fat is to burn more calories than you take in.

Getting a massage will not tone your skin, as there are no muscles in your skin. The turgor of your skin depends on elastic fibers deep within the skin. As people age, these fibers lose much of their elasticity and the skin stretches and wrinkles. There are no exercises to keep the skin elastic and wrinkle-free.

Finally, getting a massage will not strengthen the muscles under yourskin. The only way to strengthen muscles is to energetically exercise against resistance.

Q: Why do some medications have to be taken at certain times?

A: The time of day that you take a medication can determine its effect.

A good example is medication taken by heart attack victims to help prevent a subsequent attack. Heart attacks are caused by clots that obstruct the flow of blood to the heart. Platelets, small cells in your bloodstream that form these clots, are more likely to clump together as clots in the morning. Therefore, aspirin is more effective in preventing clots if it is taken in the morning.

Another example is asthma medication. Your body produces cortisone-type hormones to prevent the swelling and buildup of mucus in the bronchial tubes that cause an asthma attack. Asthma is worse at night, when these hormones are at their lowest levels. That makes asthma medicines more effective at night, when the body needs them the most.

Blood pressure is highest during the day, when you are most active -- thinking, eating and moving. Obviously, beta blockers and other blood pressure medications are more effective in treating high blood pressure when taken during the day.

Finally, stomach ulcers hurt the most between midnight and 3 a.m.,when there is no food in the stomach to absorb the acid that is collecting there. Thus, ulcer medications -- designed to prevent acid from accumulating in the stomach -- are more effective when taken at bedtime.

Q: My two children eat weird combinations of food and sometimes claim they aren't hungry, begging to leave the table to go play. Should I be worried?

A: Most parents worry about the way their children eat. But a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that these worries are usually unnecessary.

It doesn't make any difference if children skip meals. When investigators studied children's diets over several weeks, they discovered that youngsters have a constant intake of calories. When they skip a meal, they eat more during their next few meals to make up for the temporary deficit in calories.

To develop a deficiency of a vitamin, mineral or anything else, children must eat meals that lack these nutrients for several weeks or months. Studies show that when children have a diet deficient in one nutrient, they do eat foods containing that nutrient eventually. Even if they don't eat enough to meet their Recommended Dietary Allowance for that nutrient, they usually eat enough to prevent the symptoms that a deficiency can cause.

What about children who eat too much food and too much fat? These habits can cause obesity, heart attacks and certain types of cancer. Unfortunately, children usually resist calorie restriction so vehemently that diets rarely allow them to take off -- and keep off -- weight. Besides, continuing to eat a low-fat diet can prevent them from reaching their maximum projected height.

If you are concerned about your children's eating habits, check with your pediatrician.

For a free copy of the "Mirkin Report" on the latest breakthroughs in medicine, fitness and nutrition, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the Mirkin Report, P.O. Box 6608, Silver Spring, Md. 20916.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

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