Sleep Vs. Exercise and 5 More Health Dilemmas-- Solved

Photo: ThinkstockBy Corrie Pikul

Sleep vs. Exercise

The dilemma: If one more person reminds us of the connection between inadequate sleep and weight gain, we're going to slug them with a pillow. Equally frustrating is the fact that fitness pros, including Bob Greene, advise getting our recommended 30 minutes of exercise out of the way first thing in the morning, at the same time that we think we should be making up for our sleep deficits. So if we have only one free hour in our day, where should we spend it--in bed, or in spin class?

The advice: Sam Sugar, MD, says this comes up all the time at the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa, where he's the director of sleep services, and where twice-daily exercise is part of the program. Sugar points out that the scientific literature is extremely clear about the dangers of sleep loss. "Even one night of short-changed sleep can be bad for your health," he says, and excessive sleeplessness can result in increases in blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar--as well as weight gain. Missing one or even two workouts doesn't have the same magnitude of negative effects. At the minimum, Sugar recommends getting six and a half to eight hours of sleep every night, while squeezing in exercise at least three times a week.


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Photo: ThinkstockFull-Time Flats vs. Get-Ahead Office Heels

The dilemma: You've finally found a pair of cute yet podiatrist-approved comfortable shoes, but they don't really go with your power outfits. Is it better to have happy feet or versatile ones?

The advice: While it's obviously healthier for your feet to favor supportive flats over stilettos (which have been proven to shorten the calf muscles), it's not a good idea to wear any type of shoe all of the time, says Hillary Brenner, DPM, a podiatric surgeon and a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association. If you wear flats exclusively, your tolerance for heels could decrease to the point where you'll feel miserable wearing them to formal events like a presentation or a wedding, and you'll risk rolling your ankle and straining your ligaments. To keep your foot muscles flexible and your shoe confidence high, Brenner recommends regularly varying your heel height from flats to two-inch heels--and never walking very far in heels higher than that. To make dress shoes more comfortable, customize them with inserts (Brenner says the Cobra orthotic can be transformative for higher heels) or padding (Brenner likes Foot Petals for cushioning the ball of the foot without squishing toes).


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Photo: ThinkstockStretching Before vs. Stretching After a Workout

The dilemma: By now you've heard that static stretches like toe touches before a workout can cause you to perform worse than if you didn't stretch at all. But doctors tell us that increased flexibility and range of movement can help us avoid injury, and the most recent guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine recommend flexibility exercises as part of a fitness routine. What should we be doing, and when?

The advice: Even though static stretches just before a workout make you feel more limber, they don't radically improve your flexibility--they just increase your mental tolerance for the discomfort of the stretch, according to some flexibility experts. There are better ways--and times--to limber up, says Lynn Millar, PhD, FACSM, a professor of physical therapy at Winston-Salem State University. "The key is finding moves to improve your range of motion for the activity you're about to engage in--that warm up the body and work the muscles that feel tight," she says. For example, if you're going for a run and you have tight hamstrings, do leg swings and then start jogging at a slow pace. Before a swim, swing your arms in wide arm circles to loosen your shoulders, then do a slow lap to warm up the leg and back muscles. Evidence shows that stretching as part of a regular program decreases risk of injury, so Millar also advises post-activity stretching as part of a cool down. She says this can be done immediately after the workout, or even later that night.


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Photo: ThinkstockRecover With a Massage vs. Skipping a Rubdown to Save Money

The dilemma: Athletes everywhere groaned upon hearing the results of a recent study that found that sports "recovery" massages received shortly after an activity not only fail to remove lactic acid, as believed, but also impair blood flow to tired muscles. There's no evidence to prove they'll help you feel less sore the next day. Does that mean we don't need them, after all? And are there any good physiological reasons to get a massage after a tough workout?

The advice: If you're not used to the activity (or the amount of time), delayed onset soreness will hit you 24 to 48 hours after you push your muscles to the limit, says Millar. This stiff, achy feeling that causes you to move like a marionette is part of the body's natural healing process, and there's no way to speed it up. However, Millar says some studies have shown that a massage at this time (not sooner) can decrease the perception of pain, and plenty of other research shows that massage at any time can decrease stress, produce endorphins, and increase psychological well-being. So forget about lactic acid and performance, schedule your massage for after you're already sore, and prepare to feel better and looser--even if you won't be faster and stronger.


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Photo: ThinkstockSPF vs. Extra Vitamin D

The dilemma: Experts believe nearly 77 percent of us come up short on intake of vitamin D, says a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine. This is a problem, because studies have linked a lack of vitamin D to depression, heart disease, decreased immunity, birth defects, skin and other cancers, multiple sclerosis and cognitive decline. One way to get it is from the sun, so should we skip the SPF to make sure we're meeting the recommended dietary allowance of 1,000 IUs?

The advice: For your body to make enough vitamin D using the sun alone, you'd need strong, direct sunlight on most of your bare skin for at least 15 minutes. That's not worth the risk of UV damage and skin cancer, says Ellen Marmur, MD, vice chair of cosmetic and dermatologic surgery at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, especially since melanoma has more than doubled among women in the past 30 years. Even when you carefully protect your skin from the sun, you'll still most likely absorb UV rays through your scalp, or from the light that gets reflected from the ground and finds its way under your sun hat or beach umbrella. If you're concerned about your vitamin D levels, Marmur recommends asking your doctor for a blood test and making up for deficits by consuming more swordfish, salmon, vitamin D-fortified milk or OJ, and by taking supplements.


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Photo: ThinkstockStand All Day vs. Sit All Day

The dilemma: Study after study shows that prolonged sitting leads not only to an expanded waist and greater body mass index, but can also put us at risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bowel cancer and--gulp--a shorter life span. But anyone who works on their feet also knows that standing for long periods can cause swollen feet and legs, varicose veins, knee problems, lower back pain, muscle soreness, bunions and crushing fatigue at the day's end. So...should you invest in that standing desk?

The advice: This is a tricky question, says Marc Hamilton, PhD, an inactivity physiologist at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The research from his lab and others confirms that the longer you sit, the more unhealthy it is, and even intense bouts of exercise fail to provide adequate protection. Surprisingly, though, Hamilton cautions against substituting standing for sitting, and he says he often reminds people of the physical issues with being vertical all day. "We're still trying to determine exactly how much sitting is too much, and what 'dose' of standing and walking you need to get each day," he says. Hamilton says to stay tuned for more research results, potentially as early as next year. In the meantime, we know that most people sit because it's comfortable, and that they do it not only at work but also before, afterward and on weekends. Because most standing hazards are easy to identify (you'll notice your back aching before you'll pick up on your increased risk of diabetes), it makes sense to do as much standing and walking as you can comfortably handle. Create a more active routine with these simple changes.


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