Charlie Trainer's Health line
Five Solutions for Your Aching Back
Who hasn't suffered a backache -- particularly as the years tick by? Back pain is one of the most common medical complaints, with four out of five of us experiencing it at some point in our lives. Often people with back pain do need to see a doctor, but if you know your twinges and creaks are the result of overdoing it -- perhaps a more vigorous than usual game of racquetball, an overzealous day of yard work, toting around a growing grandchild or simply the aches and pains of age -- there are some safe and effective measures that can provide soothing relief.
For advice, I went to Thomas H. Reece, DO, ND, one of just a few practitioners with dual degrees in Naturopathic and Osteopathic Medicine. Former medical director of the Southwest Naturopathic Medical Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, Dr. Reece now practices at the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in California. He told me that serious back problems usually involve pain that travels down the leg, producing numbness and a decrease in muscle strength (this may show up as a drop foot or you may simply notice that you are tripping on one foot). This kind of problem requires appropriate diagnosis and care and Dr. Reece strongly advises against any attempts at self-treatment. He reiterated that relatively simple or straightforward backaches respond well to simple, straightforward home care.
EASY FIXES FOR A COMMON PROBLEM
- Lay around a while. In the initial stages of back pain from a strained muscle, nothing is quite as simple and effective as ice and rest. It may be beneficial to stay in bed (or at least rest from normal activity) for a day or two after such a strain, but longer bed rest may do more harm than good, leading to further stiffness and weakness. It's best to return to some activity, such as walking on level ground, as soon as possible. Taking magnesium malate, enzymes and homeopathic arnica may help ease the pain of a strain.
Dr. Reece recommends: If back pain is severe (you can't move or you experience the serious symptoms noted above) or a seemingly simple strain persists for more than three days, see your physician for diagnosis and treatment.
- Bend and stretch. A study at the University of Oxford in the UK demonstrated that a three-week rehabilitation program was nearly as effective as spinal fusion surgery in overcoming certain types of back pain. Daily exercises were carefully tailored to suit individual ability, and consisted of muscle stretching and strengthening, endurance, low-impact aerobic exercise (e.g., walking or swimming), and spine stabilization exercises for deep abdominal muscles. Specific activities included walking on a treadmill, stationary cycling, step-ups and abdominal-strengthening exercises using a gym ball.
Dr. Reece recommends: A lack of exercise lies at the root of many back problems, with muscle weakness and stiffness opening the door to injury. If you suffer from chronic or periodic back pain, Dr. Reece advises that you begin any new workout under the watchful eye of a physical therapist. He said that a toning exercise program may be more appropriate for this purpose than a stretching program.
Dr. Reece recommends: Perform Qigong over Tai Chi... yoga or Pilates could also be beneficial if the instructor tailors the program to your specific needs.
- Water works wonders. Daily sessions of hydrotherapy were part of the rehabilitation program at the University of Oxford. Hot compresses relax muscles and increase blood flow to painful areas, while cold compresses reduce inflammation. With back strains, always use cold only during the first 48 to 72 hours, then alternate cold with hot.
Dr. Reece recommends: Apply alternate cold and hot packs to strained or sore areas of the back, using cold first. Use each for two to five minutes, for a total of 20 to 30 minutes, ending with cold. Instant cold and hot packs are widely available in drugstores or you can use moistened towels.
- Supplemental solutions. Conventional drugs for back pain have many possible side effects. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen can lead to gastrointestinal problems or bleeding problems for some individuals... pain-relieving opioids are potentially addictive... and muscle relaxants are associated with dizziness and drowsiness.
There are some natural solutions, however. Enzymes such as bromelain and herbs such as curcumin are known to have a natural anti-inflammatory impact. Also, supplements such as fish oil may help reduce inflammation and soothe back discomfort. A study published in Surgical Neurology suggested that fish oil supplements are as effective as certain NSAIDs in relieving back and neck pain, with fewer side effects, though the study authors acknowledge that further research needs to be done.
Dr. Reece recommends: Magnesium supplements, in the form of magnesium malate. This natural muscle relaxant doesn't provide the powerful pain relief of a pharmaceutical agent, but it certainly has fewer side effects.
- Basics of body mechanics. Many back problems stem from poor body mechanics or posture -- for example, lifting objects incorrectly or sitting hunched over a computer all day. Good body mechanics mean that you are standing, sitting and moving without putting undue stress on any muscles or joints.
Dr. Reece recommends: To lift an object properly, hold it close to you... bend your knees, squat... and lift it straight up, without twisting. Always use proper posture. (For more on proper body mechanics, see Daily Health News, April 24, 2008.)
BACK TO NORMAL
Before resorting to complicated, high-tech solutions for back pain, consider going the natural route. The truth is that most episodes of acute pain from back strain resolve on their own and low-tech, side-effect-free options work for many people.
Thomas H. Reece, DO, ND, one of only a few practitioners with dual degrees in Naturopathic and Osteopathic Medicine. Former medical director of the Southwest Naturopathic Medical Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, Dr. Reece now practices at the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in California. He is a specialist in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine.
They’re Playing My Song. Time to Work Out.
Jon C. Hancock/Associated Press (left); Donna Alberico for The New York Times (middle); Stephanie Kuykendal for The New York Times
For a slow pace, "Le Freak" by Chic or "Don't Phunk With My Heart," by the Black Eyed Peas. For a moderate pace, "Push It," by Salt-N-Pepa or "SOS," by Rihanna; and for a fast pace, "Firestarter," by the Prodigy or "Mr. Brightside," by the Killers.
FITNESS magazines and Web sites love to ask readers about their favorite workout music while presenting their playlists or suggestions from celebrities.Self.com features the “ ’80s cardio playlist,” which includes the short-shorts video classic “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham! On Fitnessmagazine.com, the singer Rihanna reveals her favorite workout songs — immodestly recommending four of her own for “when you have to pick up the pace on the treadmill.”
Tunes for Every Tribe (January 10, 2008)
The playlist fixation has a scientific basis: Studies have shown that listening to music during exercise can improve results, both in terms of being a motivator (people exercise longer and more vigorously to music) and as a distraction from negatives like fatigue. But are certain songs more effective than others?
Generally speaking there is a science to choosing an effective exercise soundtrack, said Dr. Costas Karageorghis, an associate professor of sport psychology at Brunel University in England, who has studied the effects of music on physical performance for 20 years. Dr. Karageorghis created the Brunel Music Rating Inventory, a questionnaire that is used to rate the motivational qualities of music in the context of sport and exercise. For nearly a decade, he has been administering the questionnaire to panels representing different demographics, who listen to 90 seconds of a song and rate its motivational qualities for various physical activities.
One of the most important elements, Dr. Karageorghis found, is a song’s tempo, which should be between 120 and 140 beats-per-minute, or B.P.M. That pace coincides with the range of most commercial dance music, and many rock songs are near that range, which leads people to develop “an aesthetic appreciation for that tempo,” he said. It also roughly corresponds to the average person’s heart rate during a routine workout — say, 20 minutes on an elliptical trainer by a person who is more casual exerciser than fitness warrior.
Dr. Karageorghis said “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa and “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop dog are around that range, as is the dance remix of “Umbrella” by Rihanna (so maybe the pop star was onto something). For a high-intensity workout like a hard run, he suggested Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On.”
Music preferences are as idiosyncratic as workout routines, of course. Allison Goldberg, a 39-year-old life coach and amateur runner who lives in Texas and who is training for the Houston Marathon on Sunday, has been running to the Green Day CD “American Idiot” because, she said, “There’s no way you can run slow to Green Day.” (Though she may not be listening on race day; a rule bars runners from using portable music players and headphones.) Haile Bebrselassie, the Olympian from Ethiopia who has won the gold medal at 10,000 meters, often requested that the techno song “Scatman,” which has a B.P.M. of around 135, be played over the sound system during his races.
Ms. Goldberg also includes on her playlist “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” by the Black Eyed Peas (130 B.P.M.), “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers (150 B.P.M.), and “Dancing Queen” by Abba. The musical style that seems to most reliably contain a high B.P.M. is dance music, said Richard Petty, the founder of Power Music, a company that has produced workout compilations for instructors and fitness enthusiasts for two decades. “A rock song doesn’t have that same consistency,” said Mr. Petty, a former D.J. who takes a metronomic approach to making exercise music: He chooses a hit song with a catchy melody — say, “Gold Digger” by Kanye West— and produces a remix whose B.P.M. count is tailored to experience level and type of workout.
For a stroll walker going at a pace of around 3 miles an hour, a remixed track has a count of 115 to 118 B.P.M.; for a power walker going 4.5 m.p.h., the count is 137 to 139 B.P.M., while the B.P.M. for a runner elevates to 147 to 160.
The compilations, aimed largely at women doing cardio, with titles like “Shape Walk — 70’s Hits Remixed,” contain no pauses between songs. That unwavering beat allows a person to synchronize their movements to the music, something that Kate Gfeller, a music professor at the University of Iowa, said is crucial.
“Music provides a timing cue,” said Professor Gfeller, who after taking an aerobics class several years ago where the teacher picked music whose tempo didn’t match the moves, was inspired to study the components of music most important to a gainful workout. “It helps you to move more efficiently, which, in turn, can help you with endurance.” (She likes to warm-up for figure skating to the Buena Vista Social Club, in particular the songs “Candela” and “El Cuarto de Tula.”)
In other words, the best workout songs have both a high B.P.M. count and a rhythm to which you can coordinate your movements. This would seem to eliminate any music with abrupt changes in time signature, like free-form jazz or hard-core punk, as well as music that varies widely in intensity, like much of indie rock. It also rules out what the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks calls “music which doesn’t have adequate rhythmic force.”
“Here, I think of Wagner,” said Dr. Sacks, whose recent book, “Musicophilia,” discusses the link between rhythm and movement. “Nietzsche wrote of what he called Wagner’s ‘degeneration of the sense of rhythm.’ ”
Dr. Sacks is fond of swimming, and said the one-two-three cadence of his strokes often leads him to play a waltz in his mind. “Neurologically, it makes no difference if you’re listening to music or imagining it,” he said. “Vivid imagining activates motor parts.”
Much of the research done on music and exercise is geared toward aerobic workouts like jogging and cardio. But as anyone who has heard Metallica blasting from a weight room stereo knows, music is a motivator in strength training, too. “The vast majority of bodybuilders are fans of heavy metal, if not in their personal life at least in the gym,” said Shawn Perine, a senior writer at Flex magazine. Loud, aggressive music, he said, “keeps you elevated, especially in between sets.”
Mr. Perine prefers to work out to hip-hop. “Let’s say you’ve done a grueling set of squats,” he said. “You’re out of breath, and L. L. Cool J’s ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ comes on. Your energy won’t flag.”
But is there a perfect workout track, a song that transcends exercise forms and personal preferences? One comes up repeatedly: “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from “Rocky.” In a forthcoming book on music and sport that he contributed to, Dr. Karageorghis writes that the song “evokes a state of optimism and excitement in the listener,” and Ms. Goldberg said it helped her get through her first marathon. The band from Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn has set up along the New York City Marathon route and performed the “Rocky” theme for runners each race day for the last 30 years.
Bill Conti, the song’s composer, shed light on why it continues to motivate. "I put a Da-Da! in the beginning,” Mr. Conti said. “any kind of Da-Da! gets your attention. Then it goes into a tune we’ve heard played so weepily throughout the movie, but now I put a beat behind it and put it in a major key.” When Rocky runs up the museum steps, musically, Mr. Conti said, “I am milking it as much as I can.”
Still, Mr. Conti is reluctant to overanalyze it. “Music is anti-intellectual,” he said. “We know the Greeks went into battle listening to music in the Dorian mode. I can only imagine some Greek guy said, ‘This works.’ ”
Red Wine -- It's Like the New Green Vegetable
Red wine seems to be the new “green vegetable”… good for practically everything. New research points to a surprising and counterintuitive connection between moderate wine consumption and the lower risk of a certain kind of liver disease... plus, I recently saw another study that suggests serving red wine with steaks can help diminish the harmful effects associated with eating red meat. Once again it appears that modern science is confirming age-old wisdom, in this case those who revered the “nectar of the Gods.”
SHALL WE DRINK TO THAT?
Of course, experts are quick to point out that wine is beneficial to your health in moderation only. That said, following are a sample of the many benefits that moderate wine consumption may confer upon your health…
Lowers risk of liver disease. Considered by some to be an emerging epidemic, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has become the most common chronic liver disease in the United States today, due in large part to our Western lifestyle and obesity, notes study author Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, MD, at the University of California, San Diego. He and his colleagues found that moderate wine drinkers are significantly less likely to develop NAFLD than nondrinkers, even after controlling for other possible contributing factors.
- Healthier heart. Wine in particular possesses potent heart-healthy benefits, according to a large-scale study, published in 2000, which included Copenhagen City Heart Study data. Researchers found the risk of death significantly lower than for people who did not drink wine and believe it’s due to ethanol and the substances in wine. Other research shows that the high polyphenol content in red wine protects the linings of cardiovascular blood vessels and may inhibit plaque formation.
- Prostate cancer protection. Men who drink four to seven glasses of red wine weekly are half as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer as men who do not drink red wine, according to research from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Doctors speculate that healthful antioxidant compounds such as flavonoids and resveratrol are responsible for this effect. White wine was helpful too, but not as much as red wine, which is a richer source of these health-promoting compounds.
- Kidney care. Drinking at least two glasses of red wine a week may lower the risk of kidney cancer, say doctors at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. Beneficial effects were also found with white wine and strong beer, but not liquor. Other research, conducted in part at Harvard Medical School, suggests that men who consume seven or more drinks weekly have a 29% lower risk of developing kidney problems.
- Longer life. One day resveratrol may prove to be the key to unlocking the secret of lasting youth. Laboratory tests demonstrate that this antioxidant compound in red wine prevents early death in mice that were fed high-fat diets. (For more on the health benefits of resveratrol, see Daily Health News, August 2, 2007.) Yet so far no human research has taken place, so further study is needed.
TO YOUR HEALTH
So it seems there’s some merit to such toasts as “salud” (health) and “l’chaim” (to life). Enjoying a glass of red wine with your evening meal may indeed improve your health and extend your life -- but do so with restraint, and drink at mealtime, since food slows alcohol absorption. Most experts suggest that an intake of one to two glasses of wine a day for men and one for women is optimal for health benefits. More, however, may increase the risk of some of the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. Red wines have more polyphenols than white (which, as noted above, can also be beneficial) but not all red wines offer equal potency of this health-promoting compound. A study in the scientific journal Nature reported that the most powerful heart-healthy polyphenols are procyanidins, which is the main source of the vascular health benefits in red wine. Wines from Southern France and Sardinia were found to have higher concentrations, due to production methods. Other research shows that the darker the wine, in general, the healthier.
However none of this is meant to suggest you ought to cultivate a wine habit if you don’t want to or don’t particularly enjoy it. Immoderate alcohol consumption has a greater negative effect than the positive beneficial effects. Dr. Schwimmer takes cautionary advice a step further, warning that people at risk for alcohol abuse or alcoholism (for example, those with a personal or family history) should not consume wine or other alcoholic beverages. Fortunately for teetotalers, there’s an excellent alternative -- red grape juice and grapes themselves are rich sources of many of the same beneficial compounds as red wine. Other antioxidant-packed options include blueberries, cranberries, elderberries and pomegranates. If you’re worried about the consequences of imbibing too much nectar of the Gods, just reach for a bunch of grapes.
Bottom Line's Daily Health News
I would like to say I just love your fittness songs for MP3 Player, they really do help. But I have one little problem, and I pray some one can help me out. I downloaded your Bustin Beat Walk music, I do really love it, its great, but I now have shin splints down around my feet and up the front of my legs. How do I prevent that from happening again? And, what can be done to help the shin splints go away? I do not want to give up my walking with you. About a year ago my husband and I stopped smoking after 35 + years, well I have always weighed no more then 105 pounds, I am smalled boned too. Since we stopped smoking we both have gained weight, I shot up to 133 pounds, and I started to jiggle when I walk, not good. Because of you and your songs, I am proudly at 128.6, and the jiggles are starting to go away now. I want to thank you for taking the time to read this, and I do thank you in advance for any help you can give me, whether it be some kind of warm up excerises for the feet and legs, or something. but thank you.
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