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Prepare your body before hiking in high altitudes

  • Published Monday, June 10, 2013, at 3:16 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, June 11, 2013, at 7:03 a.m.

When Sly Stallone took to the mountaintop in the 1993 film “Cliffhanger,” the scenery made moviegoers dizzy with laughter (the papier-mache mountain shook during fight scenes). But if you’re heading for the real thing and it’s more than 8,000-9,000 feet above sea level — say, Humphrey’s Peak near Flagstaff, Ariz. (12,635 feet), Yellowstone National Park (the caldera is 10,308 feet) or La Paz, Bolivia (13,323 feet) — you don’t want the surroundings to make you queasy, headachy and fatigued. Those are the classic signs of altitude sickness. Fortunately, you can avoid them if you prime your body for a bit of oxygen-deprivation.

Turns out if you sleep above 4,200 feet (but not too far above), you’ll adjust to reduced oxygen levels and won’t feel lousy if you spend the next day hiking closer to (or in) the clouds. One study found men who slept below 2,300 feet and hiked above 8,000 the next day were five times more likely to die that day from cardiac arrest than those who slept above 4,200 feet.

So elevate your altitude experience by adding these other smart moves:

• Stay well-hydrated.

• Don’t drink alcohol or take medications (like sleeping pills) that slow breathing — you’ll make symptoms worse.

• Acetazolamide is the standard drug for preventing altitude sickness; it’s 75 percent effective. Or try (with your doc’s OK) 60 mg of the herbal supplement gingko biloba for up to five days before heading up the mountain.

• Go slow and take in the scenery. For elevations above 9,000 feet, go up in stages over several days.

Sweat can make you happy

When the Cleveland Browns’ standout running back Trent Richardson hits the practice field for wind sprints this summer, the wry smile on his face won’t just be because he’s confident of improving on his most-touchdowns-by-a-rookie season. Kicking out over a gallon of sweat during practice (no problem in summer camp) is guaranteed to raise your spirits, as long as you stay hydrated.

For those of you who enjoy your workouts at a slightly slower pace, three to five sessions of exercise for 45-60 minutes can up your happy quotient … and your sagging backside. The routine: Aerobics that raise your heart rate to 80 percent to 85 percent of its maximum (max heart rate is equal to 220 minus your age) and resistance training (three sets of eight repetitions) at 80 percent of the max you can lift. A bit depressed? Doing this routine for 10 to 12 weeks will give you a much more upbeat outlook.

What happens to the body when you sweat? All kinds of magic. Your 2.5 million sweat glands keep you cool and clean out your pores for healthier, smoother skin. Internally, you’re promoting blood vessel flexibility, ridding your body of toxins and cranking up endorphin and serotonin levels — that’ll raise your mood. You’re also creating brain connections and neurons, and fending off cognitive problems by making your key memory area, the hippocampus, bigger. And, oh yeah, if you’re physically active, you’ll have a more active sex life, too. So, head outside for some sweet sweatin’ — and drink 8-16 ounces of non-sugary liquid for every 60 minutes of exercise.

Better late than never

Geoffrey Chaucer, author of “The Canterbury Tales” of 1387, was the first person to pen the phrase “For bet than never is late.” But “better late than never” is a mantra we want everyone to hear loud and clear today. So listen up, middle-age slackers: No matter how overweight or inactive you are, there’s new proof that if you’re 40-50 years old and have never gotten much exercise or paid attention to what you eat, you can turn your life around.

Start by walking a mile in 25 minutes. Then increase your pace to a mile in about 18 minutes. That will slash your risk of heart failure by up to 40 percent (ditto if you go from jogging a mile in 12 to 10 minutes) and your risk of dying of lung, colon or prostate (guys) cancer by more than 40 percent. Plus, you’ll build muscle mass, lose body fat and shed pounds. That matters because middle-age body fat stiffens arteries — a sure route to heart attack, dementia, sexual dysfunction and stroke. And if you have a stressful work environment (who doesn’t?), working out regularly (at least 30 minutes daily; we say, walk 10,000 steps a day) and eating healthfully (no saturated or trans fats, no added sugars or sugar syrups and only 100 percent whole grains) can triple your chance for healthy aging.

Lead exposure hasn’t gone away

In 1983 the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., underwent a renovation that removed more than 30 layers of old, flaky paint. The project was finished in 1987, but Congress doesn’t seem to have improved its appearance since then. And now it all makes sense. They must have left behind a few layers of brain-damaging lead paint.

Recognized as the most significant environmental hazard to children in the U.S. and Canada (children’s growing bodies absorb lead easily), high blood levels of lead are associated with irreversible IQ deficits, attention-related behavior problems and poor academic achievement. (Does that sound like Congress to you?) But in 2012, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered the safe threshold for lead exposure (from a blood level of 10 mcg to 5 mcg), doubling the number of U.S. kids at risk for lead poisoning to 500,000, legislators slashed the national lead abatement program budget from $29million to $2million.

Now it’s up to communities and families to take up the campaign.

Lead was banned from most paint in 1978; if your house or local schools and recreational facilities were built before then, have them checked for lead paint. An effort in Rochester, N.Y., resulted in a 68 percent decline in children with elevated blood lead levels. Call your local health department or the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for information on how to proceed.

Get a home-testing kit (about $10) and check anywhere you find peeling or cracking paint. For advice on safe removal, call the National Lead Information Center at 800-424-LEAD.

The ABCs of vitamin D-3

When Tom Cruise discovers Morgan Freeman and his band of underground-dwelling freedom fighters in “Oblivion,” they seem to think their most serious problem is forced isolation. But we’re betting lack of vitamin D-3 posed just as great a threat to their health as anything above ground.

Vitamin D-3 is part vitamin, part hormone and completely essential to protect you from heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, immune problems and high blood pressure. Our bodies need sunshine to kick-start its production, or you can get a leg up from supplements. Getting enough vitamin D-3 cuts a woman’s risk of developing fibroids by 32 percent, protects against pneumonia, helps preemies build bones and postmenopausal women avoid osteoporosis.

Around 60 percent to 80 percent of North Americans have low levels of vitamin D-3 — and half of those are so low they’re at immediate risk for heart problems. So what should you do to get enough vitamin D-3?

1. Bask in 10 minutes of sunshine (no sunscreen) daily. Added bonus: Sunlight releases nitric acid into your bloodstream, keeping arteries supple. Then apply SPF 30 sunscreen (we like zinc oxide). In 10 minutes, it starts protecting you.

2. Enjoy salmon, mushrooms and D-3-fortified tofu or nonfat dairy.

3. Take a vitamin D-3 supplement (1,000 IU) daily. Tip: Have your vitamin D blood level checked every year. A study of more than 1million people found that the optimal blood level for heart health is 20 to 36 ng/mL. For cancer prevention, the level is 50 to 80ng/mL.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

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