Rowing, properly done, can be beneficial for the back


November 03, 1992|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,Contributing Writer/United Feature Syndicate

At some time in our lives, nearly all of us have suffered from low back pain. A good way to fight that pain is to make the back muscles stronger by pulling on a rowing machine.

There are two types of rowing machines. One is made with a piston inside a casing to create resistance for the oars. It looks like a shock absorber for an automobile. Because the piston is released at a constant rate, no matter how hard you pull, you must row at a constant rate -- but that does not feel very natural.

The second type of rowing machine is better; it has a spinning wheel to resist the pull of the oars. This design allows you to row with a far more natural motion, one that feels more like you're actually rowing a boat. You start by pulling on the oars at a slow rate. As the wheel spins faster, you can pull harder and faster. As you near the end of your stroke, the spinning of the wheel slows you down.

All good rowing machines, too, are made with movable seats that allow your body to move back and forth as you pull. This full range of action also helps make your arms and legs stronger.

Before you pull, bring the seat as far forward as possible. Bend forward and hold the oars close to your chest. Push your feet against the stirrups to move the seat backward. As the seat moves, bend your body backward at the hips. Finish the stroke by pulling the oars close to your torso.

The pattern is feet, back and arms -- in that order.

* Q: I've seen advertisements claiming that enzyme pills will help individual lose weight; prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes; and cure acne and varicose veins. Should I believe all ++ that?

A: No, you shouldn't.

An enzyme is a chemical that makes a reaction occur. For chemical A to go to chemical B, for example, and release energy in your body, the reaction must be started by an enzyme. If there is no enzyme present, the reaction will not take place.

But even if a specific enzyme is designed to help a specific function in your body, taking enzyme pills will not serve that function -- unless the enzyme pills are enclosed in special capsules that won't break down until long after the enzyme passes from the stomach.

When you swallow an enzyme pill -- or consume any protein, since enzymes are proteins -- it goes to the stomach and intestines, where acids and your body's own enzymes break down the pill's enzymes to form amino acids. Thus, the pill's enzymes are no longer enzymes; they are amino acids that have no function in your body other than to be used for energy or as building blocks to form other proteins.

One effective use of enzymes, though, involves the drinking of milk. Fifty percent of all Americans get diarrhea or cramps when they drink milk, because their bodies cannot make the enzyme that breaks down the sugar (lactose) in milk. But don't attempt to compensate for this by taking the missing enzyme by mouth, because it will break down in your stomach and intestines and will be unable to do its job -- which is to prevent diarrhea. Yet, if you add the missing enzyme to the milk and leave the milk in the refrigerator for 24 hours, the enzyme will break down the lactose.

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

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