Exercise and Fitness

How does strength training slow bone loss?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was recently diagnosed with osteopenia. My doctor advised strength training because it can help slow bone loss. How does it do that?

DEAR READER: Osteopenia is a thinning of the bones. It is often a precursor to osteoporosis, a more severe thinning of the bones. Osteoporosis puts you at risk for disabling, and sometimes debilitating, fractures. Bones are filled with cells. Some cells build up new bone; other cells tear down old bone. In most people, those two processes are in good balance.

Will a digital fitness monitor help me become more active?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'd like to be more active. Do you think a digital fitness monitor will help?

DEAR READER: When digital fitness monitors (DFMs) became available several years ago, I was initially skeptical. I figured they would be the latest example of our fascination with electronic devices and that people would quickly tire of them. Well, surveys show that some people have quickly tired of them and left them to collect dust in a drawer.

Is watching TV the worst sedentary activity for our health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is watching TV worse for your health than any other activities that keep you from being active?

DEAR READER: We know that exercise is good for our health, and that too much inactivity is bad for our health. But does it make sense that watching TV is worse than other sedentary activities? Actually, it may. My colleague Dr. Robert Shmerling is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He noted that a recent study shows watching a lot of TV is worse for your health than other activities that involve long periods of sitting. The study Dr. Shmerling referred to enrolled more than 13,000 young and middle-aged adults. Researchers asked the study subjects how much time they spent watching TV, using a computer and driving.

Is it possible to go off blood pressure medication through diet and exercise?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is it possible to get off blood pressure-lowering medication through diet and exercise?

DEAR READER: Yes, it is. I've seen many patients commit to lifestyle changes and get off blood-pressure medicines entirely. More often, I've seen that a commitment to a healthier lifestyle allows people to greatly reduce how much medication they take, even though they still need some medicines to control their blood pressure. While many people, myself included, would like to not have to take medicines at all, being able to reduce the dose is a big deal. Many of the side effects of medicines are reduced or eliminated by reducing the dose.

What does pulmonary rehabilitation involve?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor has recommended pulmonary rehabilitation for my COPD. What will this involve?

DEAR READER: COPD stands for "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease." This group of disorders damages the lungs and makes it increasingly difficult to breathe. Common symptoms include a mucus-producing cough, breathlessness, rapid breathing, wheezing, tightness in the chest and fatigue.

Is it safe for me to ride a stationary bike if I have sciatica?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have sciatica. Is it safe for me to ride a stationary bike for exercise?

DEAR READER: Sciatica is persistent pain felt along the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from the lower back, down through the buttock and into the lower leg. Pain results when this nerve is compressed or injured. It most commonly results from inflammation, bone chips caused by arthritis, or a herniated ("slipped") disk in the lower spine.

I strained my hip flexor — how can I relieve the pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've strained a muscle where my hip meets my pelvis. What can I do to relieve the discomfort?

DEAR READER: It sounds like you've strained your hip flexor. That's a group of muscles that runs from your lower back to the front of your thigh. These muscles help flex your hip when you lift your leg to the front. A hip flexor strain can lead to pain where your thigh meets your pelvis, as well as pain or pinching when you pull your knee to your chest or when you climb stairs.

What are different exercise combinations for a good workout?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've written that a complete exercise program involves a combination of activities. Can you discuss these exercises? How often should I do them?

DEAR READER: All-around fitness calls for a combination of aerobic, strength, flexibility and balance exercises. Let's start with aerobic activities, which are great for burning calories and paring down unwanted fat. These activities -- think of walking, biking, running and swimming -- push large muscles to repeatedly contract and relax.

How does regular exercise help prevent memory loss?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my late 60s. I've read that regular exercise helps prevent memory loss. I find that hard to believe. How does it do that? And how much exercise do I need to reap this benefit?

DEAR READER: It's easy to understand why regular exercise would be good for your bones, muscles, lungs and heart. Regularly challenging those organs would make them stronger.

What are some ankle-strengthening exercises?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have weak ankles, and as a result, I have frequent ankle sprains. Can you suggest some ankle-strengthening exercises?

DEAR READER: Our ankles are workhorses and take a lot of abuse. They must bear the full weight of our bodies, yet stay nimble and flexible through every step and jump. It's amazing they work as well as they do. As is true with every weight-bearing joint in our bodies, the muscles that affect the movement of the joint are the joint's best friends. I learned this the hard way. I badly injured my right quadriceps muscle playing basketball when I was in my 20s.