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HEALTH HORIZONS : PULSE : HOT TUBS AND HEART PATIENTS

<i> Doheny is a freelance health and medicine writer living in Burbank </i>

For years, heart disease patients have been warned to bypass hot tubs. But now Mayo Clinic researchers say they might be able to enjoy a safe plunge now and then. They compared 15 patients at risk of heart disease, recording their heart rates while they rode a stationary bike and while they were in the hot tub. The patients’ heart rates were higher on the bike than in the tub.

Says Dr. Thomas Allison of the Mayo Clinic: “If you’re a heart disease patient and your physician has recommended exercise, we feel you can get in the hot tub and likely not have any problems.” But he has two caveats. Limit soak time to 15 minutes. Keep the water at 104 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler.

CUTTING-EDGE SPORTS

Looking for a cutting-edge kind of sport? Try exercise walking or--honest--dart throwing. Those two activities had the highest five-year growth rate among sports claiming more than 10 million participants, according to a National Sporting Goods Assn. survey. Exercise walkers totaled 71.4 million last year, up from 41.5 million in 1985. In 1990, 16.4 million people participated in dart throwing, up from 9.4 million in 1985.

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Among sports with declining numbers of participants during the same five-year period: hunting, fishing, camping, aerobics, jogging, softball, swimming and tennis.

TRIGGERS TO ASTHMA

What can trigger asthma attacks? Causes vary greatly, according to the Harvard Health Letter. But common triggers cited by patients and their doctors include emotional upset, exercise, cold or dry air, perfumes, pollens and other allergens, alcoholic beverages and enzymes found in laundry detergents. For some asthmatics, even lying down can set off an attack.

IN LINE SKATE TIPS

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If you’re just getting your balance on in-line skates--those trendy streamlined models that are a cross between roller skates and ice skates--here are some tips from the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. Skate with an experienced skater to learn proper technique, including information on how to fall safely. (Don’t use your arms to cushion the blow; instead, roll onto your shoulders.) Start out on a flat surface to reduce injury risk. Keep your body weight forward; bend your knees slightly. If you feel yourself losing balance, crouch down a bit to lower your center of gravity.

RELIEF FOR STUFFY NOSES

Using decongestant nasal sprays is considered safe--but doctors say to limit use to no more than four times a day, for four days, according to the Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

Used more often, these sprays can irritate nasal membranes, leading to constant irritation and congestion. As alternatives to nasal sprays, consider salt water or saline sprays, which humidify tissues without side effects. Prop up your head six inches or so to keep blood vessels from swelling. Exercise to stimulate production of adrenaline, a natural decongestant.

DEPRESSED SMOKERS

Tobacco smokers, like people addicted to alcohol, cocaine and heroin, have a high rate of depression, according to two recent surveys. One survey of more than 3,000 people found smoking is more common among those who have had a bout of major depression at some point in their lifetimes. Another survey found that respondents who listed depressive symptoms were more likely to smoke. Yet another study, reported in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, provides a bit of good news: antidepressant drugs help depressed and non-depressed smokers to quit, at least for a time. Smokers who took an antidepressant as they abstained from smoking for a month reported less irritability and craving than those who took a placebo as they tried to quit.

SOFT DRINK STATISTICS

In the mood for a soda? The average American drank the equivalent of 556 cans of soft drinks last year, according to statistics issued by the Beverage Marketing Corp. and reported in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. If those sodas were all sugared, the 556 cans would contain about 83,400 calories.

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BEWARE THOSE SLANTED SURFACES

Runners should avoid roads that slant up or down near the curb, warns the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. Running on slanted surfaces can alter the biomechanics of the gait, thus increasing the odds of knee injury. If there’s no place but slanted surfaces to run, runners should at least change directions after a while to even out the imbalance.

MARKET DANGER

Grocery shopping seems tame enough, but a report in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter suggests otherwise. The number of children injured by falling out of carts has more than doubled during the 1980s, according to government tallies. One reason: the widespread use of such carts in other types of stores, like discount stores. Some carts now include safety straps.

SUN STATISTIC

Most people have received 50% to 80% of their lifetime sun exposure by age 18, according to the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. The statistic underscores the need for children and teens to use effective sunscreens.

MEDICINE USE IN THE ELDERLY

If you’re over age 65, chances are you take at least one prescription drug and some over-the-counter remedies as well. By following some common-sense tips, you can avoid dangerous drug interactions and get optimal benefit from the medications, says Dr. Eric Tangalos, a Mayo Clinic geriatrics specialist.

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When you go to the doctor, take all your medicines with you. That way, your doctor knows exactly what you’re taking.

Ask your doctor to review your medications periodically. Sometimes newer formulations of the same pill require fewer daily dosages.

AGING MYTH

Those television laxative commercials seem to spotlight older customers, but constipation is not a natural effect of aging, according to the Mayo Clinic Health Letter. Most studies of older people who are healthy don’t find any meaningful age-related changes in bowel function.

MEN and NUTRITION

Men get more concerned about nutrition when they reach their 50th birthday, according to an American Dietetic Assn. survey of 500 men ages 18 and older. In the poll, 80% of those age 50 to 64 termed nutrition a top priority. Only 58% of younger men in the survey did. Why is nutrition a concern to some? Nearly half cited health maintenance and disease prevention as reasons. About a fifth listed physical fitness as the motivation for good eating; 12% listed weight control.

Other findings: Men who choose to change their diets are more likely to eat less of a harmful food than to eat more of a healthful one. Nearly three-quarters of the age 50-plus respondents said they know more about nutrition than do their wives or other significant women in their lives. But only half of respondents ages 18-24 said they know more about nutrition than do the women in their lives.

CANCER PAIN AND ETHNICITY

Some cancer patients are more likely than others to keep a stiff upper lip about their pain, says USC researcher Howard Greenwald. He interviewed 536 patients, ages 20-80, who had been treated recently for cancers of the lung, pancreas, prostate and cervix, all considered painful sites for cancer. He asked about their intensity of pain and their emotional reactions to it.

He found no differences among ethnic groups in the intensity of pain. But English, German and Scandinavian patients were less likely than others to describe the pain as frightening or terrible.

PRECAUTIONARY NOTES FOR MUSICIANS

Musicians can avoid on-the-job stress and strains by following some simple precautionary measures, according to Mayo Clinic experts:

--Piano players should use an adjustable chair so they can reach the pedals and keyboard without hand strain.

--Flute players should hold the mouthpiece to minimize shoulder stress and keep arms in a comfortable position.

--Clarinet players should use a neck strap so the weight of the instrument rests on the chest and shoulders instead of the thumbs.

--Violin players should wear enough shoulder padding to eliminate neck stress.

ETHNICITY AND MOTION SICKNESS

If you are of Asian descent, you are twice as likely than people of other ancestry to suffer motion sickness, according to a study by Penn State University researchers. And once you get motion sick, you are likely to feel worse than motion-sick Caucasians or African-Americans. Researchers compared 15 Chinese subjects with 15 non-Asians, placing them in an environment that simulated movement and then observing them for motion sickness. The researchers can’t explain the differences, but speculate a genetic factor may be involved.

Motion sickness includes a host of symptoms, ranging from dizziness and headache to sweating and nausea.

LOWDOWN ON WRINKLE RELIEF

In recent years, the options for reducing facial wrinkles have expanded. Here are three avenues to wrinkle relief, along with what results you should expect, according to experts writing in the Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

Chemical peels--medication is painted over wrinkles near the eyes, mouth, cheeks and chin, lightly wounding the skin and leaving it smoother and scarless. Retin-A or retinoic acid--A man-made derivative of Vitamin A, used for years as an acne treatment, Retin-A can reverse the effects of sun-damaged skin after about four months of constant use. Sunscreen is vital to avoid burning.

Abrasion--a technique in which doctors use a special device to “sand” the skin, aiming to reduce wrinkles around the mouth and eyes.

Daily habits can increase wrinkles. How best to keep wrinkles from deepening? Minimize sun exposure. Forget facial exercises; they may worsen the problem. Stop smoking cigarettes. Keep weight as stable as possible.

PUMPING AND PEDALING

Don’t laugh too much at the bike riders in your gym who wear wrist weights while they pedal. They may look odd, but they’re actually exercise-smart, suggests a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Israeli researchers studied indoor cyclists when they used wrist weights of about 2.5 pounds and when they didn’t. When they used the weights, exercisers perceived the workouts as less stressful, probably because the workload is distributed over a larger muscle mass. But they still exerted enough effort to improve their cardiovascular systems.

FIBER SUPPLEMENTS

For regularity, fiber supplements are touted as being as effective as real foods--or what grandma calls roughage. Supplements can work well, notes the Mayo Clinic Health Letter, but they are more expensive and have no advantages over high-fiber foods. But because many people find supplements convenient, experts offer these tips on their use: Take fiber supplements containing psyllium before meals if you are overweight. They can help satisfy your appetite. Too skinny? Take them after a meal. Drink at least 8 ounces of juice or water each time you take a fiber supplement to help it work more effectively. Shop for sugar-free fiber supplements if you have diabetes or are on a calorie-restricted diet. Don’t use fiber supplements on a long-term basis. Chronic constipation should be evaluated by a physician.

DAY CARE KIDS AND INJURY RISK

Here’s good news for parents worried about their children’s safety while at day care. The risk of injury and poisoning to young children appears lower while they are at such centers than while they are at home, say researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control, who reported their findings recently in the American Journal of Diseases of Children.

The conclusion is based on telephone survey information from households with 2,250 children under age 5. Overall, children who attended day care did have higher injury rates than stay-at-home kids. But the injuries to day care children were more likely to occur while they were at home than at the day care site. For instance, none of the 171 reported poisonings occurred at the day care site.

BOOSTING CALORIES

How can skinny people keep their weight up without eating too many fatty foods? Experts offer this advice in the Mayo Clinic Health Letter: Snack between meals on nonfat yogurt or dried fruit. Instead of water, coffee or tea, substitute lemonade, fruit juices or frozen yogurt shakes for extra calories.

RELIEF FOR CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME

Splinting is often suggested as a non-surgical remedy for carpal tunnel syndrome, the painful wrist affliction that can accompany repetitive motion such as typing. Now, Canadian and Washington state researchers say splinting is most effective if applied within three months of symptom onset. In their study of 105 patients, 67% reported symptom relief after splinting. The report appears in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

GRAZERS, TAKE NOTE

Grazers contend that eating six or so small meals a day is more healthful and more fun than eating the old-fashioned three square meals daily. But eating more frequently is not necessarily healthier, according to the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. It’s what you eat that matters, not when you eat it. Eating six small meals can be smart and nutritious. But so can eating just three.

Sources for Pulse include the American Dietetic Assn., American Journal of Diseases of Children, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Harvard Health Letter, Journal of Reproductive Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, National Sporting Goods Assn., Penn State University, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, USC, UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, The Harvard Mental Health Letter.


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