Pedaling your way to a surer step


October 08, 1991|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,United Feature Syndicate

Most people over the age of 70 walk slowly with an unsteady gait. Pedaling a stationary bicycle is one of the best ways to help them walk faster and with better coordination.

A recent study published in the Journal of Neurology helps explain why most older people walk clumsily. As we age, we begin to take progressively shorter steps. We aren't able to raise our feet off the floor as well as we used to. And we rotate our hips far less and swing our arms through a much shorter radius than before.

Weakness of the muscles in the upper legs causes most of the apparent lack of coordination in older people when they walk. Strengthening these muscles will help most older people walk more quickly and with greater confidence.

Anything that can be done to strengthen the legs, torso and arms will lengthen stride and improve coordination and speed during walking. However, the most important muscles for walking are those in the upper legs.

One of the best ways to strengthen the upper leg muscles is to pedal a bicycle. Pedaling forces us to use our knees and hips.

But as we age, we tend to exercise for shorter periods -- and less often. Therefore, a good program that is not too radical would be to pedal a stationary bicycle until the legs feel heavy or until they hurt, every other day.


Q: My sister says that eating fatty foods can ruin a person's sex drive. Is that right?

A: Yes, according to a study reported in the medical journal Metabolism. Its authors imply that a fatty meal may lower the sexual desires of both men and women.

Men and women have both the male hormone, testosterone, and the female hormone, estrogen. Men look and act like men because they have more testosterone and women look and act like women because they have more estrogen.

We need testosterone to make love. Lowered testosterone in men can cause impotency. Lowered testosterone in women may decrease sexual desire. A fatty meal will reduce blood levels of testosterone by more than 30 percent.

Furthermore, several recent studies have shown that dietary fat has more to do with an individual becoming overweight than the number of calories he takes in.

Thus, eating fatty meals makes you fat! And fat men and women have lower blood levels of testosterone because their body fat converts testosterone to estrogen.

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

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