Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Recover Faster From Exercise with Protein AND Carbs

A study from James Madison University shows that runners recover faster when they take in large amounts of protein, carbohydrates and antioxidants after their workouts (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Volume 17, 2007). Athletes train by taking a workout hard enough to damage their muscles, feeling sore on the next day, and then going easy for as many days as it takes for the soreness to lessen or disappear. The sooner they recover from their hard workouts, the sooner they can take another hard workout and the stronger they will be.

Muscles are made primarily from protein building blocks called amino acids. Muscles heal from a hard workout when amino acids and other nutrients travel from your bloodstream into the muscles. Eating any food, particularly foods with plenty of protein, immediately after you finish your workout helps your muscles heal faster so you can do more work. The sooner you eat after you finish your hard workout, the quicker you will recover.

This study confirms many others that show that taking carbohydrates and proteins immediately after exercise hastens muscle healing and gets rid of the soreness faster. The defect in this study is that the authors fed a drink that combines protein, carbohydrate and antioxidant vitamins. They concluded that you need all three components to recover faster, and that a drink is superior to food. However, other studies show that you can get the same benefit from a wide variety of foods that are rich in protein and carbohydrates, and that these foods would be so rich in antioxidants and other nutrients that it would not be necessary to take any supplements. More

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Great News for Older Athletes: Marathon Times Do Not Drop Before Fifty

You should be able to compete effectively in sports that require endurance well into your later years. Researchers at the German Sports University in Cologne, Germany analyzed competitive marathon times and showed that trained men and women did not have a significant drop in their race times until they reached their fiftieth birthdays (International Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 28, 2007). Average marathon and half-marathon times were virtually identical for age groups from 20 to 49 years. Furthermore, the drop in performance for the 50- to 69-year-old subjects was only in the range of 2.6 percent to 4.4 percent for each decade. As expected, women's times for each age group were slower than the men's times by about 10 percent for the marathon and 13 percent for the half-marathon.

These results show that most older athletes are able to maintain a high degree of physical fitness and suggest that most infirmity with aging is caused by lack of exercise, rather than just by the passage of years. If you exercise regularly, expect to be able to be stronger, faster and better coordinated than your peers who do not exercise. More on recovery times in older exercisers; fitness newsletter

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Skin Cancer Risk Linked to Diet, Not Just Sun Exposure

There are three common types of skin cancers: basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. Basal cell skin cancers rarely spread and almost never kill; squamous cell cancers can spread and rarely kill; and melanomas often spread and have a significant mortality rate. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are believed to be caused by excessive sunlight exposure, while melanomas are often linked to sunburns. Researchers have wondered whether other factors than sun exposure increase risk for developing these cancers.

A study from Australia shows that people who eat a diet rich in meat and other fatty foods, and low in vegetables and fruits, are at significantly increased risk for developing squamous cell cancer (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2007). This study shows that diet has little or no association with basal cell skin cancers. While nobody really knows how diet may increase risk for squamous cell skin cancers, the most likely explanation is that a diet high in meat and fat may impair your body's immunity so that your antibodies and cells are not able to search out and kill cancer cells. Fruits and vegetables are rich in phytochemicals that help to strengthen your immunity, so these foods may lower cancer risk. More on phytochemicals

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Metabolic Syndrome Linked to Low Magnesium Levels

Metabolic syndrome means you have abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol and high blood pressure, and are high risk for diabetes and heart attacks. It is caused by an inability to respond adequately to insulin. A study from the National Cholesterol Education Program shows that people who are on a diet that is low in magnesium are the ones most likely to suffer metabolic syndrome. (Obesity, Volume 15, 2007).

Nobody really knows why low levels of magnesium prevent cells from responding to insulin. A leading theory is that magnesium is necessary for insulin to act after it attaches to insulin receptors on cells. Before insulin can do its job of driving sugar into cells, it must first attach to special hooks called insulin receptors on the surface of cells. Then it moves sugar into cells by activating an enzyme called tyrosine-kinase. Magnesium is necessary for this reaction to occur.

Another interpretation of this study could be that magnesium deficiency is only an indicator of a very unhealthful dietary pattern that is most likely to cause metabolic syndrome. Since virtually all parts of plants and the animals that eat them contain magnesium, a diet low in magnesium would have to be based on large amounts of white flour, sugar and other highly refined and processed foods. These are also the foods that cause the highest rise in blood sugar. Free weekly newsletter; more on metabolic syndrome

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Asthma or Allergy Sufferers: Cycling is Better than Running

Many people with allergies and lung problems such as asthma should be able to exercise on a bicycle, even when their disease would prevent them from participating in sports that require running. Researchers showed that even people with severe lung disease can ride a bicycle (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, June 2007).

People with obstructive lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have swelling of the tubes that carry air to and from the lungs. This allows their lungs to fill, but prevents the air from leaving their lungs effectively , so that their lungs are so full of air, they cannot get the air out to get rid of excess carbon dioxide or bring in extra oxygen. Of course, this interferes with their ability to exercise intensely. This study shows that during hard cycling, you can still get rid of excess carbon dioxide and take in adequate oxygen, but running interferes far more with your lung functions.

Exercise is beneficial for everyone and helps to prevent heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, dementia, overweight and other health issues. People with lung problems should get their doctor's permission to start and maintain a cycling program, either on a stationary bicycle or on the road. Free newsletter

Friday, July 20, 2007

Leg Clots in a Healthy Person: Know the Warning Signs

Leg clots occur without warning with sudden pain and swelling in a leg muscle, usually the calf. This is a particularly dangerous condition because the clot can break lose from the veins in the leg, travel to the lungs and block blood flow to kill a person. In a report in the British medical journal, Lancet, doctors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showed that infections may cause sudden clotting in the leg muscles called Deep Vein Thrombosis. They showed a 20 percent increase in infections, particularly urinary and respiratory, one to two weeks before a person develops clots. This report supports the current theory of inflammation causing heart attacks, strokes, and clotting. Your immunity is good because it is supposed to kill germs when they enter your body. However, if your immunity keeps on being active, it attacks your own body to damage arteries and other tissues.

People at the highest risk for clots are those who are sedentary for a long time, such as in long distance plane flights, and those who suffer cancers. Since infections are common and deep vein clots are not, you should not worry about clots every time you get an infection. However, if after a urinary or respiratory infection, you suffer sudden pain in a leg without any other explanation, check with a doctor immediately to rule out a clot. Journal reference; more on inflammation

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sore muscles should guide your exercise program

Your muscles should feel sore on some days after you exercise. If you go out and jog the same two miles at the same pace, day after day, you will never become faster, stronger or have greater endurance. If you stop lifting weights when your muscles start to burn, you won't feel sore on the next day and you will not become stronger. All improvement in any muscle function comes from stressing and recovering. On one day, you go out and exercise hard enough to make your muscles burn during exercise. The burning is a sign that you are damaging your muscles. On the next day, your muscles feel sore because they are damaged and need time to recover. Scientist call this DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness.

It takes at least eight hours to feel this type of soreness. You finish a workout and feel great; then you get up the next morning and your exercised muscles feel sore. We used to think that next-day muscle soreness is caused by a buildup of lactic acid in muscles, but now we know that lactic acid has nothing to do it. Next-day muscle soreness is caused by damage to the muscle fibers themselves. Muscle biopsies taken on the day after hard exercise show bleeding and disruption of the z-band filaments that hold muscle fibers together as they slide over each other during a contraction.

Scientists can tell how much muscle damage has occurred by measuring blood levels of a muscle enzyme called CPK. CPK is normally found in muscles and is released into the bloodstream when muscles are damaged. Those exercisers who have the highest post-exercise blood levels of CPK often have the most muscle soreness. Using blood CPK levels as a measure of muscle damage, researchers have shown that people who continue to exercise when their muscles feel sore are the ones most likely to feel sore on the next day.

Many people think that cooling down by exercising at a very slow pace after exercising more vigorously, helps to prevent muscle soreness. It doesn't. Cooling down speeds up the removal of lactic acid from muscles, but a buildup of lactic acid does not cause muscle soreness, so cooling down will not help to prevent muscle soreness. Stretching does not prevent soreness either, since post-exercise soreness is not due to contracted muscle fibers.

Next-day muscle soreness should be used as a guide to training, whatever your sport. On one day, go out and exercise right up to the burn, back off when your muscles really start to burn, then pick up the pace again and exercise to the burn. Do this exercise-to-the-burn and recover until your muscles start to feel stiff, and then stop the workout. Depending on how sore your muscles feel, take the next day off or go at a very slow pace. Do not attempt to train for muscle burning again until the soreness has gone away completely. Most athletes take a very hard workout on one day, go easy for one to seven days afterward, and then take a hard workout again. World-class marathon runners run very fast only twice a week. The best weightlifters lift very heavy only once every two weeks. High jumpers jump for height only once a week. Shot putters throw for distance only once a week. Exercise training is done by stressing and recovering. Newsletter

Monday, July 16, 2007

Insulin Levels May Determine Diet Effectiveness

If you are not sure what type of weight loss diet is best for you, you may want to have your insulin levels checked. Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital showed that people with high insulin levels lose weight more effectively on low-refined- carbohydrate diets (Journal of the American Medical Association, May 16, 2007). The researchers measured blood insulin levels one half hour after eating. They then placed overweight patients on either low-fat or low-refined-carbohydrate diets. Those with insulin levels above average at 30 minutes after eating lost more weight on the low-refined-carbohydrate diet.

When blood sugar levels rise too high, the pancreas releases too much insulin. This converts sugar to triglycerides. Then you use up the good HDL cholesterol carrying triglycerides from the bloodstream to the liver. Patients on the low-refined- carbohydrate diet had a much greater rise in the good HDL cholesterol and a much greater lowering of triglycerides. Those on the low-fat diet had a greater lowering of the bad LDL cholesterol.

Another study from City College of New York showed that after eating a fatty meal, obese people produce more insulin than thin people do. Blood insulin levels of thin and obese people rise equally high after eating refined carbohydrates. Unlike thin people, obese people have a high rise in insulin after eating a fatty meal. Insulin affects the brain to make a person hungry so he eats more. More on weight loss and nutrition; free newsletter on fitness, nutrition and health.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rethinking the Maximum Heart Rate Formula

For more than forty years, fitness instructors have based exercise prescriptions on the maximum heart rate formula of 220 minus your age. A study from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan shows that this formula may be wrong (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, May 2007). The researchers found that the original formula overestimated the maximum heart rate for younger exercisers and underestimated the maximum rate for older ones. The new formula they recommend is 206.9 - (age x .67) = maximum heart rate.

Athletes train by taking a hard workout on one day, feeling sore on the next day, and then going easy for as many days as it takes for the soreness to go away. Then they take another hard workout and repeat the cycle. Most exercise physiologists and coaches tell their conditioned athletes to raise their heart rates to 80 to 100 percent of their maximum when they take a hard workout. For people who exercise for fitness, a hard workout usually means exercising at 60 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate.

However, the maximum heart rate formulas are set by averages of large populations. Your own maximum heart rate is determined by your fitness level as well as your age. Your legs drive your heart, not the other way around. When you start to exercise, your leg muscles contract and squeeze blood from your veins near them. Then when your leg muscles relax, your veins open and fill with blood. This alternate contacting and relaxing of muscles pushes extra blood toward your heart. The increased return of blood to your heart speeds up your heart. People with stronger muscles pump more blood towards their hearts and therefore can get a faster heart rate.

Since there is huge variation between individuals ranging from competitive athletes to novice exercisers, you would be better off setting your workout level by "perceived exertion", rather than by any formula based on averages. "Perceived exertion" means that your brain interprets how hard your are exercising, and you can respond to these signals. As you exercise more intensely, you become short of breath and your muscles start to burn and hurt. You can interpret your own effort and discomfort levels to decide how hard you should work on a hard day or an easy day.

People who are just starting an exercise program or who do not exercise regularly should use much lower levels of effort. They should never try to get to their maximum heart rates because they are the ones most likely to suffer heart attacks during exercise. Start any new exercise program slowly and build up your level of fitness gradually. More

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Carbohydrate Loading Benefits Can Last Several Days

An important part of your energy for vigorous exercise comes from the sugar stored inside muscle cells. When you run out of stored muscle sugar, your muscles may hurt and be more difficult to coordinate. Carbohydrate loading is a technique athletes use to increase the stored sugar in their muscles. Four days before a competition, they exercise vigorously and then for the next three days, they eat their normal diet plus large amounts of extra carbohydrates in foods such as bread, spaghetti and potatoes. A recent study shows that after carbohydrate loading, the muscles will be full of extra sugar for up to five days (European Journal of Applied Physiology, February 2007).

At three, five and seven days of limited activity after the loading process, the researchers cut out pieces of muscle and analyzed the sugar content. Only at seven days post-loading did muscle sugar concentrations drop significantly. This means that if your competition is delayed, you can expect the effects of carbohydrate loading to last up to five days.

Eating a high-carbohydrate meal, such as pasta, the night before a competition helps to load muscles maximally with sugar. The pre-race meal cannot load muscles as it takes at least 10 hours to refill muscles with sugar. However, on race day, the athletes may pay a price because high carbohydrate, low-fiber foods can cause constipation. So they have to stand in long lines, waiting to use the portable johns. Had they eaten their carbohydrates in high-fiber foods the night before, they could have concentrated better on their upcoming competition. More

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mitochondria Efficiency: New Key to Aging Well

An exciting report from the University of Washington in Seattle shows how exercise prolongs lives (Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, April, 2007). The leading theory for aging is that mitochondria produce oxidants that damage the DNA in cells to shorten life. Mitochondria are parts of cells that convert food to energy. They function by stripping off electrons and protons from food to produce energy. When they do this, they end up with free electrons that eventually attach to oxygen, which produces free radicals that stick to genetic material in cells to cause permanent damage.

As you age, your muscles lose mitochondria and those that remain become smaller so that they produce far more free radicals. Anything that increases the size or number of mitochondria makes them function more efficiently so they produce fewer free radicals. This recent review shows that exercising as you age actually prevents loss of mitochondria and can even make them larger so they produce fewer oxidants.

This report is particularly significant because a recent survey of the world's literature in the Journal of the American Medical Association (February 28, 2007) showed that there is little evidence that taking antioxidant supplements prolongs life, and they may even shorten life. Apparently it is necessary to avoid production of oxidants, not just to take antioxidants as a corrective measure. On the basis of these studies, if you do not already have a regular exercise program, check with your doctor for approval and get started. More

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Diabetes Control or Prevention: Strength Training, Protein Benefits

A study from Purdue University shows that lifting weights and eating extra protein can help to prevent or control diabetes, while enlarging muscles at the same time (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2007). Thirty-six men and women in their sixties lifted weights three times a week for 12 weeks. They ate either a diet that contained 112 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein or 150 percent of the RDA. The higher protein group ate more eggs and dairy products.

After 12 weeks, the weight of both groups remained the same, and they gained the same amount of muscle and lost the same amount of fat. Both groups had the same reduced rise in blood sugar after eating a sugared meal. This means that they reduced their chances of becoming diabetic equally. However, the blood insulin levels decreased more in the low-protein group. The authors conclude that older people who consume adequate amounts of protein can use resistance training to increase muscle, lose fat and decrease their chances of becoming diabetic. Your doctor can help you determine how much protein is appropriate for you.
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Friday, July 06, 2007

Interval Training Techniques Can Be Used By Every Exerciser

Athletes train by "stressing and recovering". On one day, they take a hard workout which damages their muscles, on the next day, they feel sore and take easy workouts, and when the soreness goes away, take a hard workout again. They also break down individual workouts into intervals of stress and recovery. After warming up, they increase the intensity of the workout until they feel burning in their muscles, become short of breath, or exceed a certain heart rate. Then they slow down and when they have recovered partially, they increase their intensity again. They repeat these stress and recovery intervals until their muscles start to stiffen and they are then stop the workout. A report from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Morgantown, West Virginia shows that the shorter the rest during an interval, the longer it takes to recover.

If you are a regular exerciser, you probably have already noticed this in your own body. Runners may take an interval workout of running ten quarter-miles averaging 65 seconds each, with a 110-yard jog lasting three minutes between each hard run. If they shorten their recoveries to two minutes, they tire earlier, their muscles feel sorer afterwards, and it takes them longer to recover. The same applies to weightlifters. A weightlifter may do four sets of ten repetitions of lifting a 150-pound weight, resting for three minutes between each set. If he shortens his interval rest to one minute, he may not be able to finish his workout, feels far more soreness during the workout and will be sore for many days after that workout.

Athletes learn their ideal interval rest durations through trial and error. They may want to rest until their pulses drops enough for them to feel comfortable, or for them to be able to slow breathing rate down towards normal, or wait until their muscles lose soreness and they feel fresh. They do not wait for complete recovery of resting heart or breathing rate, or complete recovery from muscle soreness. Runners and cyclists often use heart rate monitors or a clock to determine when they will do their next interval. Weight lifters usually wait for their bodies to "feel" recovered. You can use whatever yardstick for recovery you like, but if it takes you longer than two days to recover from an interval workout, you are probably exercising too intensely, doing too many repetitions, or not taking a long enough interval rest. Journal reference; free fitness newsletter; more on interval training techniques

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Heatstroke or Just Fatigue? Know the Warning Signs

After you have played a long tennis match on a hot summer day, you feel weaker and less accurate with your shots. The fatigue, muscle weakness, tired aching feeling and decreased coordination that you get in any sport lasting several hours is caused by low levels of fluids, salt or calories. There are no early warning signals. By the time you feel hungry, you have already run low on calories and are ready to crash. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already severely dehydrated and feel weak and tired. By the time you are low on salt, you already have tired, aching or burning muscles; feel weak, tired and dizzy; and may already have muscle cramps.

The primary limiting factor in sports that require great endurance is the time it takes for your heart to pump oxygen in your bloodstream from your lungs into your muscles. A study from the University of Connecticut shows that with dehydration, your heart beats with far less force so it pumps far less blood with each beat, and is unable to bring as much oxygen to your muscles.

You can't depend on thirst to tell you when you lack fluids. Certain brain cells called osmoreceptors tell you when you are thirty, but only after the salt concentration of your blood has risen considerably. When you exercise, you sweat. Sweat contains far more water than salt in comparison to blood. So you lose far more water than salt during exercise and blood levels of salt rise. By the time that a your blood salt concentration is high enough to trip off the osmoreceptors, you are severely dehydrated and it is too late for you to be able to drink enough during exercise to catch up with your water deficit. On the other hand, if you take salt with fluids, then your blood salt levels rise faster and tell you that you are thirsty earlier.

There are other reasons that you should take salt with fluids during prolonged exercise. First, it helps prevent muscle cramps. Remember, during exercise you lose salt and water. If you are replacing only water, you can eventually take in so much water that your salt levels drop to cause muscle cramps. Second, even though salt is a mild diuretic at rest, during exercise it helps your body to retain water. So when you are going to exercise for more than a couple hours, particularly in hot weather, drink small amounts frequently and eat salted foods such as peanuts. Always stop if you feel sick, have chills, headache, severe muscle burning or aching, dizziness, or blurred vision. Seek help if your symptoms do not subside in a few minutes; you could be headed for heat stroke that can kill you. Journal reference for this article; more on heatstroke; more on hyponatremia (too much water)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Eat during hard exercise, even if you want to lose weight

Don't skip snacks during a long bike ride or other hard exercise, even if weight loss is your goal. You will need to eat food or drink sugared beverages to be able to ride long enough to burn significant calories and lose weight. Your muscles need a constant supply of sugar to keep you going. Cyclists who do not eat run out of their stored muscle sugar in about two hours. When you run out of stored muscles sugar, your muscles hurt and you lose coordination. You will not be able to ride fast because when your muscles run out of their stored sugar, they use fat for energy. Fat is not an efficient source of energy for exercising intensely. You will ride much faster when your muscles are full of sugar. Intense exercise helps you to burn extra calories after you finish your ride. Taking food or sugared drinks during a ride will allow you to exercise intensely enough to increase your metabolism so you will burn extra calories for several hours after you finish your ride.

Eating foods that contain both carbohydrates and proteins during any long competition increases an athlete's endurance more than taking just carbohydrates. When you exercise vigorously for more than two hours, you need to take extra fluid, salt and calories. You should drink whatever fluid tastes best to you, and eat any food that includes salt. Many studies show that taking in extra carbohydrates during an event prolongs endurance, so athletes often eat oranges and other fruits, cookies, sandwiches and other carbohydrate-rich foods. You will have even greater endurance if you also eat some high-protein foods such as cheese, meat, chicken, fish or eggs. During prolonged, intense exercise your muscles are damaged, and the extra protein supplies the building blocks called amino acids that can help to limit muscle breakdown. Fitness newsletter; more on exercise for weight loss

Monday, July 02, 2007

Recovery Times Do Not Decrease with Age

Many older athletes notice that their muscles weaken with aging, even though their recovery times from hard workouts are the same as when they were younger. A study from Griffith University in Queensland, Australia confirms this. Two groups of experienced cyclists raced in 30-minute time trials on three consecutive days. The first group had an average age of 24 while the second group's average age was 45.

Both groups maintained their average power during the three trials. They had the same amount of muscle damage, measured by the release of a muscle enzyme called CPK. Both groups had a drop in their maximal heart rate of three beats per minute during their third time trial. The maximal voluntary isometric contractions of the quadriceps muscle were the same for both groups. The authors concluded that "high-intensity endurance performance is maintained in both well-trained young cyclists and veteran cyclists following three consecutive days of maximal 30-minute time trials."

Every muscle is made up of millions of individual fibers, as a rope is made of many threads. Each muscle fiber is enervated by a single nerve fiber. The non-preventable result of aging is loss of nerve fibers. With the loss of each nerve fiber during aging, you lose its associated muscle fiber. So aging causes you to have increasingly fewer muscle fibers, which makes you weaker. However, the remaining muscle fibers function as well as those of a younger person. Journal reference for this article; more on recovery times

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Health Benefits of Alcohol Explained by New Study

Various studies have concluded that moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages may improve health and prolong life. However, nobody really knows why this may be true or what doses of alcohol may prevent disease. One possible explanation is given by a study from The University of Sydney in Australia that shows alcoholic beverages help to prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high after meals (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2007). This means that alcohol could help to prevent the damage caused by high blood sugar levels.

When food reaches the stomach, the pyloric valve closes and does not allow food to enter the intestines until it is turned into a soupy liquid. Anything that keeps food in the stomach longer will help to lower the rise in blood sugar levels. Foods that cause the highest rise in blood sugar include those made with flour or sugar, but when these foods are eaten with fatty foods, they are held in the stomach longer so the rise in blood sugar is blunted. This study shows that alcohol delays the rise in blood sugar in the same way, lowering rise in blood sugar following eating by 16 to 37 percent. This could be the mechanism by which moderate alcohol consumption promotes health.

However, many of the studies proclaiming the health benefits of alcohol have a major flaw. Researchers from the University of Victoria in British Columbia reviewed 54 studies and found that only seven corrected their non-drinking population for people who had to stop drinking for health reasons (Addiction Research and Theory, April 2006).

When you do an epidemiological study to see if alcohol prevents disease, you compare people who drink and those who do not drink. However, many people do not drink because their doctors have told them they have high blood pressure, liver, heart or kidney disease, alcoholism, stomach ulcers, or other major health problems. The Canadian researchers re-analyzed 47 studies that associated wine or other alcohol with a longer life and decreased risk for heart attacks. When the studies were corrected to remove the people who had been ordered to stop drinking for health reasons, they found no difference in death rate between moderate drinkers and those who do not drink at all. It is probably safe to take up to two drinks a day, but be skeptical of studies that say alcohol will prolong your life. Weekly eZine