Our in-house doc answers your questions about health, fitness, and living adventurously.
A Natural Cure
Every spring, my asthma gets worse. What can I do?
Get some sunshine. A recent study from Tel Aviv University of more than 20,000 asthmatics found that those with a vitamin D deficiency were 25 percent more likely to have flare-ups. Asthma causes inflammation in, and a narrowing of, the airways; vitamin D may counter these ill effects by bolstering the immune system and reducing inflammation. Natural light is the best way for your body to synthesize the vitamin, and you should aim for 15 minutes of rays — or about half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink — two or three times a week (you can find out exactly how much sunshine you need for your skin type and location with the app Dminder). And if you can't get outside, take a vitamin D supplement of at least 2,000 IU daily.
I keep seeing reports about "text neck." Can using my phone too much really wreck my spine?
No. This idea, based on research using computer models (not actual humans), is that lowering your head to text, email, or scroll puts the equivalent of up to 60 pounds of pressure on the neck, potentially damaging the spine. The reality? Your neck is designed to flex forward and backward, and to extend. With no weight on your head, the load on your spine when craning your neck is completely manageable. Compare it to reading a book; humans have used that posture for centuries without problems. But that doesn't mean you have carte blanche to text away. Being constantly hunched over your phone will create body tension and stress, as well as poor posture. Plus, you miss a lot. I had to chase down a thief in New York City after he snatched my cell phone from my hand while I was staring at it! My new policy: Text only when you need to, not just because you can.
I recently broke my arm skiing. Is there anything I can do to stay in decent shape while I recover?
First, keep exercising your good arm. Doing shoulder presses and raises, triceps extensions, and biceps curls with your noninjured arm will actually prevent your bad arm from getting weaker. That's thanks to a process called the contralateral strength training effect — when one side gets stronger, it helps the other side retain strength, too. (A recent study found this can actually help you gain 8 percent of strength in your injured limb.) Another research-backed tip: Visualize, step-by-step, executing those presses, raises, extensions, and curls with your injured arm. The process of thinking it through activates the neurons in your brain that connect to the muscles in your injured limb. Studies have shown that keeping those connections firing will help ensure the muscles in your injured limb stay stronger and healthier.
I'm watching my sugar intake, but the dried fruit I eat has loads of sugar. Should I skip it?
Just like whole fruit, dried fruit is rich in healthy antioxidants, but watch your intake. Fruit is naturally sweet, and the dried version can be six times as sugar-dense. For example, a fresh apricot is 9 percent sugar; one dried apricot is 53 percent sugar. And while you're unlikely to eat more than one apricot, it's easy to pop five or six dried ones. The only time I'll indulge in more than a handful of dried fruit is during intense endurance exercise, like my annual Nordic ski marathon, when my body needs quick, simple sugars to refuel.
The Doc is online. Email your questions for Dr. Bob Arnot to firstname.lastname@example.org.