Strength training generates speed and flexibility


June 08, 1993|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,Contributing Writer United Feature Syndicate

Everyone from chess and violin players to dancers and professional athletes should train for strength. Lifting weights and developing large strong muscles makes you stronger, faster and more flexible. It will not interfere with coordination you need for fine muscle movements to play the piano or shoot a basketball.

Muscles are made up of two different types of fibers: The red, slow-twitch fibers are used for endurance; the white, fast-twitch fibers are used for strength and speed. When you make a muscle stronger, you train the same fibers that make you faster, so strength training helps you to move faster. Coordination is controlled by the ability of the brain to coordinate the more than 500 muscles in your body. Strengthening a muscle does not hinder brain control of muscles. In fact, strength training may even improve coordination in events requiring strength. Stronger muscles use fewer fibers and therefore are easier to control.

Full length range-of-motion strength training can also improve flexibility. To make a muscle more flexible, you need to stretch it. When you lift a heavy weight, your muscles stretch before the weight moves.

Q: I'm very worried about osteoporosis. What can I do to prevent it?

A: A recent study from Australia showed that women who are most likely to develop osteoporosis can take a drug called etidronate when they reach menopause to help strengthen their bones.

Some women are at increased risk of developing osteoporosis, including those who go into menopause before the average age of 52 and those who are very thin or have a family history of osteoporosis. Other factors that increase a woman's chances of developing osteoporosis are drinking, smoking, eating a diet low in calcium, not exercising and having a pale complexion.

A woman's bones are strongest when she is 20 years old. Each year after that, she loses a bit more calcium and her bones become a little weaker. At menopause, her yearly bone loss triples and she continues to lose bone at a high rate for several years. This process is so relentless that it will eventually cause every woman to develop osteoporosis if she lives long enough.

Most doctors give women estrogen at menopause. However, estrogen does not replace bone. It only slows down the rate that bone is lost. This recent study showed that taking the drug etidronate will make bones denser and stronger at the time of menopause. The dosage was one 400 milligram pill at bedtime for two weeks, every 12 weeks for one to three years. Future studies will show whether all women at high risk for osteoporosis should take etidronate pills when they go into menopause.

Q: Can vitamins really help to prevent cancer?

A: Some promoters of vitamin supplements have been conducting a campaign to persuade people that taking vitamin supplements prevents cancer. There is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University studied Chinese peasants who lived in 65 rural counties of the People's Republic of China. He showed that low blood levels of vitamins A, C and E are associated with an increased risk of many different cancers and that high blood levels of these vitamins were associated with a decreased risk.

This study does not show that taking vitamin supplements prevents cancer because the studies were done on poor Chinese citizens who took no vitamin pills whatever. The vast majority of the Chinese peasants were too poor to eat fat-rich meat and pastries, so they ate mostly vegetables, grains and beans. When you eat lots of plants, you can expect to have higher blood levels of vitamins A, C and E because plants are loaded with these vitamins. However, plant foods are also rich sources of fiber and many other chemicals that haven't even been isolated yet. So, scientists don't have the foggiest idea which components in plant foods are associated with the reduced rates of cancers.

These studies show that eating lots of plant foods does two things: It helps to prevent cancer, and it helps to raise blood levels of the vitamins that are in plants. The studies do not show that taking vitamin pills prevents cancer.

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

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