The long-term health benefits of conducting are nothing to shake a stick at


What do Leopold Stokowski, Nadia Boulanger, Pablo Casals and Arturo Toscanini have in common? They all conducted major orchestras when they were in their 90s. Symphony conductors have a lot of reasons to live a long life. They're fit, and they derive satisfaction from the adulation they receive from their audiences.

You, too, can become fit by conducting. Although you may not be able to find an orchestra to conduct, you can still turn on a radio, or a tape recorder, pick up a stick and start conducting. As long as you conduct vigorously enough to increase your pulse rate more than 20 beats per minute, you can become fit.

Waving your arms is good exercise. Your heart has to work two XTC and a half times as hard to pump blood through your arms as it does to pump the same amount of blood through your legs. The blood vessels in your arms are smaller and offer a greater resistance against the flow of blood.

So turn on your radio, pick up a stick and start to conduct. If your arms feel heavy or hurt, stop conducting for the day and try again on the next. Gradually, you should be able to work up to a full symphony.

Oat bran, fish oil, wine, now nuts. Does eating nuts really help prevent heart attacks? G.L., Raleigh, N.C.

Some in the media interpreted a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine as evidence that walnuts prevent heart attacks. I'm sure nut sellers will use the article to make ridiculous claims about the value of nuts.

The study did not show that walnuts lower blood cholesterol. It showed that adding walnuts to a diet while keeping the fat and calorie intake constant forces a vegetarian to restrict his intake of eggs, dairy products and oils. This reduces his intake of saturated fats and cholesterol -- the two dietary components that raise blood cholesterol and increase susceptibility to heart attacks more than any other food component.

The same authors published a study six months ago which showed that vegetarians who eat nuts frequently have fewer heart attacks than those who eat nuts only on occasion. Vegetarians don't eat meat, so they get their protein from dairy products, eggs, nuts or beans. Some vegetarians also avoid dairy products and eggs. Whole milk dairy products and eggs contain lots of saturated fat and cholesterol. Therefore, vegetarians who restrict dairy products and eggs have to get their protein from nuts and beans, both of which are very low in saturated fat and devoid of cholesterol. The article showed only that restricting whole milk dairy products and eggs helps to prevent heart attacks.

Similar flaws are found in research reports that show heart attacks are prevented by eating oat bran, olive oil, fish oil or anything else. Your body will convert excess calories to fat, regardless of their source. You can help to prevent a heart attack by reducing your intake of food, fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.

A friend of mine recommends a new diet that involves severaldays of fasting. Will this help me lose weight? C.W., Glen Rock, N.J.

Skipping a few meals is OK, but there are no known health benefits from fasting, and doing it for extended periods can be harmful. Claims that fasting gives the intestines a rest and helps to clean toxins from the colon are ridiculous. There is no evidence that the intestines need a rest or that toxins from undigested food accumulate in the intestines to cause damage.

Fasting can help you to lose weight, but carried to extreme, it can harm you. Within hours after you start to fast, your body uses up all its available stored sugar in muscles and the liver. Then you have to break down your own body for energy. First, your body uses up all its stored fat. Then it starts to use your muscles for energy. Your heart is a muscle, and as it is used up, it gets progressively smaller and weaker. The cause of death from starvation is heart failure because the heart becomes too weak to pump blood through the body.

The longest a person has been documented to live without food is 66days. Fasting for a few days rarely is harmful to healthy people. However, if you plan to fast for longer than that, make sure that you are under careful medical supervision. You should also remember that weight lost while fasting is quickly regained. For permanent weight loss, you need a permanent change in your eating habits.

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

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