I've heard that peppermint is the trendy new performance booster. Is this true? Should I be trying peppermints and peppermint tea?
Before you stuff your gym bag with Starlight mints or down peppermint schnapps the night before a 5K, here's the "411" on peppermint and performance.
Yes, peppermint is a stimulant and a mood booster and may also improve concentration. Studies have shown enhanced performance (both speed and strength) in those who sniff peppermint oil before or during competition. But you have to know how to use peppermint for it to be effective.
According to Richard Crafton of Life Smells Good Aroma- therapy Bar & Massage Studio in Federal Hill, the ideal use would be the water-based diffusion of peppermint oil into an enclosed gym. Because this isn't happening -- at least not at my gym -- Crafton suggests smelling peppermint oil or drinking peppermint tea before exercising. Although there are no known side effects, Crafton cautions that the concentrated oils shouldn't come in contact with skin.
You can find the oil at aromatherapy shops and the tea at health food stores. As for peppermint candy, you're better off having it at the finish line as a reward.
Almost all exercise routines include knee or deep-knee bends. I am in my 60s and have arthritic knees. It hurts my knees to walk up stairs. Is there an alternative exercise that I can do to strengthen the muscles in my legs?
While knee bending may be painful, it's weight-bearing activity that you should actively avoid. Climbing stairs aggravates your arthritis because of the pressure of your weight on each knee. In place of weight-bearing exercise like walking, running, or aerobics, substitute swimming, cycling or water aerobics.
Nancy Ridout, former president of United States Masters Swimming, says water fitness is great for those with knee problems. "Water provides buoyancy and balance," she says, "so the knee is not stressed."
Other activities like yoga and tai chi will improve flexibility and strengthen leg muscles, relieving the pressure on your knees. If any movements are painful, avoid them. Warm up before any exercise and wear support like a strap or brace to protect the joint.
You also may want to see a physical therapist specializing in knees. He or she can recommend exercises tailored to you and give advice on shoes or inserts that will ease the knee pain.
Do you have a fitness question? Write to Fitness, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278. You can also fax questions to 410-783-2519 or e-mail fitness@ baltsun.com.