Less mileage, more speed are the keys to improved running performance

FITNESS CLINIC

May 24, 1994|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,United Feature Syndicate

If you are happy with your jogging program, continue as you are doing, but if you want to be able to run faster, you have to push yourself to run faster a couple of times a week, even though it may increase your chance of injuring yourself and you may not be able to run as many miles.

Competitive runners know that the only way to become faster is to run faster in practice. At the University of Copenhagen, Danish scientists studied experienced runners who had been running 60 miles a week at a fast pace.

One group was told to cut their mileage in half to only 30 miles a week, but to run a series of around 50- to 100-yard --es as fast as they could. The other group kept on running 60 miles a week at a fast pace.

The runners who ran fewer miles faster had a 7 percent improvement in their bodies' maximal ability to take in and use oxygen. That means that they could run faster for a longer period of time. The runners who did not increase their speed in practice did not improve at all, even though they were running twice as many miles.

This doesn't mean that you should go out and try to run fast every day. Intense exercise damages muscles, and it takes at least 48 hours for muscles to heal. Try to run faster perhaps one or twice a week, never on consecutive days. Never run fast when your legs feel heavy or hurt.

Q: Can you tell me the latest research about the use of tacrine to treat Alzheimer's disease?

A: Alzheimer's disease causes apparently normal people to gradually lose their mental facilities so that eventually they cannot remember things, take care of themselves or function normally in society.

Two recent reports in the Journal of the American Medical Association show that tacrine improves mental function about 2 percent, which is not much, but enough to help some function better in society.

Brain messages are sent along brain cells through chemicals called neurotransmitters. People with Alzheimer's disease have damaged brain cells that do not produce adequate levels of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Tacrine raises brain levels of acetylcholine, but it does not stop the progressive brain damage caused by the disease.

To raise mental function by 2 percent, tacrine has to be given in such large doses that it can cause vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea and belly pain. Thirty percent of the patients had to withdraw from the study because of abnormal liver tests, and only 28 percent of the patients on very high doses were able to complete the study. Fifty percent had abnormal liver tests at least once, but in all cases, the liver tests returned to normal after the drug was stopped.

Tacrine costs around $112 per month, and the blood test to monitor it costs $150. Because of the devastating consequences of Alzheimer's disease, the researchers feel that even this slight benefit and significant toxicity and expense make the drug worth trying.

Q: Recently I went to my doctor to diagnose the cause of impotence. My doctor told me that it was caused by arteriosclerosis. I am 6 feet tall and weigh 275 pounds.

A: Being overweight is associated with heart attacks. If fear of getting a heart attack hasn't started you exercising and eating a low-fat diet, your impotence should.

Study results recently published in the Journal of Urology showed that men who have high blood levels of the bad LDL cholesterol or low blood levels of the good HDL cholesterol are far more likely to become impotent. In men who had heart attacks and smoked, more than 56 percent were impotent. No men who had HDL cholesterols over 90 were impotent. Sixteen percent of apparently healthy men who had HDL cholesterols under 30 were impotent.

The same factors that help to prevent heart attacks can also help to prevent and treat impotence: eating a low-fat diet, controlling blood pressure, avoiding being overweight and exercising. A high LDL or low HDL cholesterol level is associated with an increased risk of heart attack. The same factors that block the arteries leading to your heart can also block those leading to your genitals, so that you will not have sufficient blood flow to achieve an erection.

Previous studies have shown that arteriosclerosis is the cause of three out of every four cases of impotence. Hormonal abnormalities, nerve damage, medications and other blood vessel diseases together account for less than 15 percent of impotence in the United States today.

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

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