Fitness - What Is Fitness?

Aristotle helped define the standards of fitness 2,500 years ago when he taught that a thing that suits its purpose well is fit. Fortunately for us, the cardiovascular system, lungs, skeleton, muscles, endocrine system and all the other amazing components of the body function for our purpose: to live well.

Exercising aids fitness in numerous ways, each involving one or more of those systems.

Increased physical activity causes the heart to work harder than at rest. That increases blood flow, floods tissues with fresh oxygen and removes cellular waste products.

Exercise causes the lungs to draw in extra oxygen to bathe the tissues and help power the heart. Exhalation removes carbon dioxide, a waste product of certain biochemical reactions.

Regular, moderate exercise helps raise HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol (the 'good' type). It helps regulate blood sugar levels and converts stored fat into sugars that are used to provide energy. That process also prevents obesity.

The other benefits of a regular fitness program are more obvious and usually among the more direct goals of most people who make the effort: increased muscle mass, toned legs, buttocks, arms, stomach and healthier looking skin. Along the way, the individual receives the added value of greater strength, improved balance, higher endurance and (often) a better frame of mind.

Different types of routines will emphasize one area more than another. Aerobic routines help the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems, weight lifting focuses on building muscle tone and mass, yoga and pilates helps balance, flexibility and muscular control. But each of these, and several more, help more than just the intended focus group. The body is an integrated system and improving one area almost always has beneficial consequences for others.

All those benefits, at least to a moderate degree, can be had for minimal daily effort. Moderate intensity activity for 30 minutes per day, at least five days per week, will go a long way toward optimizing fitness.

A brisk walk, taking the stairs up one or two flights, a short daily jog, jumping rope and many other simple activities can be carried out with no special equipment or training.

More intense activity, done properly, can raise that level even further. A vigorous tennis game, a few laps in the swimming pool, an hour on the treadmill or exercise bike, or any of a dozen others, can raise your fitness to a peak with only a moderate investment of time and money.

For the truly committed there are, of course, a thousand and one classes at the gym, and every conceivable kind of home fitness equipment to fit a variety of budgets. A daily routine using free weights, followed by a good jog around the park will keep all systems functioning well.

And, as Aristotle taught all those centuries ago, to function well is to live well.

Immune System Basics

immune system
The human immune system is a multifaceted entity that is designed to fulfill two tasks: it distinguishes what is “us” from what is “not us,” and then eliminates what is “not us.” Any molecule that can be recognized by the immune system – whether it is self or non-self – is called an antigen. A healthy immune system is capable of effectively handling potentially harmful antigens, including infectious organisms, allergens, and abnormal cells (such as cancer cells).

While not technically part of the immune system, there are several anatomic barriers that must be surmounted by foreign antigens before the immune system is activated: The skin, with its germ-inhibiting sheen of oils and sweat; the mucus that coats the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and urogenital tracts; and specialized, hair-like cilia projecting from respiratory epithelial cells all serve as obstacles that help prevent attacks on the human organism. Any antigen that breaches these barriers can trigger two types of immune response: innate and acquired.

The Innate Immune Response

Innate immunity (also called “natural” or “nonspecific” immunity) does not require prior exposure to a particular antigen in order to be activated. The various components that make up the innate immune response simply recognize foreign antigens as “non-self,” and they react accordingly.

Important components of the innate immune system include:
  • Phagocytic cells (neutrophils and monocytes in the bloodstream; dendritic cells and macrophages in the skin and other tissues) are responsible for “eating” and destroying invading antigens. They also “show” these antigens to other immune cells, thus initiating a cascade of events that ultimately eradicates the antigen and leads to long-lasting immunity.
  • Natural killer (NK) cells are specialized lymphocytes that detect and kill tumor cells and cells infected by viruses.
  • Polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) release cellular messengers called cytokines that trigger the inflammatory response and recruit more immune cells to areas where they are needed.

The Acquired Immune Response

Acquired immunity (also known as “learned,” “specific,” or “adaptive” immunity) is that component of the immune response that confers immune memory. Following a first encounter with a given antigen, acquired immunity affords a quicker response to that antigen in the future. Vaccinations trigger an acquired immune response, as do initial infections with certain infectious organisms, like chickenpox, measles, or mumps.

Components of the acquired immune response include:
  • T lymphocytes process antigens that are presented to them by phagocytic cells so the antigens can be effectively eliminated. Mature T cells typically only recognize a single, specific antigen; since there are billions of antigens in the environment, the capacity for T cell specialization is nearly limitless. Furthermore, some T cells will heighten the immune response (they secrete cytokines that stimulate other immune cells); others help to suppress the immune cascade once a threat has been addressed; still others are “cytotoxic” and help to kill other cells that are infected, malignant, or foreign (e.g., transplanted tissue).
  • B lymphocytes produce antibodies that bind to foreign antigens, thus making them more easily recognizable to other immune cells. B cells can produce one class of antibody by simply encountering an antigen in the circulation, but this process is slow and only confers limited immunity. However, when B cells encounter specialized T cells, they can be “educated” to produce different classes of antibodies that are manufactured much more quickly and that afford much better immune protection.
  • Antibodies are highly specific and complex proteins that are produced by B cells following exposure to circulating antigens or specialized helper T cells. Each antibody molecule matches only one antigen so, like T cells, B cells have an unlimited capacity to produce antigen-specific antibodies; they are also capable of remembering their uniquely-assigned antigens. Antibodies are ubiquitous: They are dispersed throughout the bloodstream and other tissues or attached to the membranes of immune cells.

Interaction between Innate and Acquired Systems Heightens Immune Response

In order to provide maximum protection against harmful antigens, evolution has conferred a significant degree of overlap between the innate and acquired systems. For example, antibodies that are produced as part of the acquired response will bind to cells that are part of the innate system, thereby accelerating the activity of the latter. Complement, an array of serum proteins that adheres to foreign antigens like butter on bread, stimulates phagocytic cells to engulf the antigens (innate system); at the same time, complement triggers the release of cytokines and the production of antibodies (acquired system).

Together, then, the various constituents of the innate and acquired immune systems cooperate to generate the critical activities of successful immune defense: recognition of harmful antigens; rapid response to those antigens; immune regulation and resolution once the threat has been addressed; and memory of specific antigens to afford effectual responses to future exposures.

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Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms

degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of low back pain, typically affecting active, healthy people in their 30s and 40s. However, since spinal disc degeneration is a natural part of the aging process, this condition also tends to affect the elderly.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease is, in fact, not really a disease. It is actually a chronic, gradual deterioration of the soft, spongy discs that separate and cushion spinal vertebrae.

Over time, intervertebral discs break down, naturally losing their flexibility, elasticity and shock absorbing qualities. Ligaments surrounding discs (annulus fibrosis) become brittle and more likely to tear, causing bulges or ruptures. Also, the gel-like center of discs (nucleus pulposus) begins to dry out and shrink, making them thinner and narrowing the distance between vertebrae.

As a result, painful conditions such as spinal stenosis and herniated, bulging and protruding discs may develop by exerting pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

These changes may also occur as a result of smoking cigarettes, performing heavy physical work or participating in repetitious activities involving bending, lifting or twisting. Obese people are also more likely to display symptoms of degenerative disc disease.

Lumbar DDD Pain

Many people with degenerative disc disease never experience pain, while others with the same amount of disc damage can feel minor discomfort or even severe pain that limits their activities.

Low back pain may start after a major injury such as from a car accident. Pain may also be triggered by minor injuries, such as falling from a low height or normal, everyday motions including bending and twisting. Sometimes, pain may also begin gradually for unknown reasons and grow worse over time.

Lumbar DDD typically causes long-lasting, dull pain in the lower back combined with occasional severe flare ups lasting for relatively short periods of time. Eventually, pain levels either return to lower levels or may go away entirely.

Common Symptoms of Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease

Physical symptoms related to lumbar degenerative disc disease typically include some or all of the following:
  • centralized pain in the lower back
  • radiating pain, numbness or tingling sensation in the hips, buttocks and legs
  • worsening pain when sitting or standing in place
  • increased pain from activities involving bending, twisting and lifting
  • walking and running may feel better than sitting and standing
  • resting eases the pain
  • decreased pain when frequently changing positions

Sitting is often problematic for people with DDD because this position forces lumbosacral discs to support heavier loads than when a person is in a standing position.

The following warning signs are indications of a serious problem. People experiencing any of these issues should seek immediate help:
  • pain is disabling or continues getting worse
  • leg weakness, pain, numbness or tingling
  • loss of bowel or bladder control

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Migraine Headache Remedies That Bring Pain Relief

migraine headache remedies

When a migraine headache strikes, sometimes lying down in a dark room with a cool cloth across the forehead offers some relief. But usually more help is needed in order to bring migraine headache relief.

Taking Medication to Relieve the Migraine Headache Symptoms

For some migraine sufferers, over-the-counter medications offer relief in fighting the migraine pain. These medications usually contain ingredients like ibuprofen, ASPIRIN®, acetaminophen, naproxen, and caffeine. A migraine sufferer should be careful about using these medications too frequently because overuse can cause rebound headaches or a dependency problem. The Cleveland Clinic website recommends that anyone needing to use over-the-counter pain medicines more than three times a week should see a health care provider to talk about other options for treating the migraine attacks.

Where over-the-counter medications are not sufficient to provide migraine headache relief, there are prescription medicines available. These include:
  • triptans such as Axert, Frova, Maxalt, Imitrex, or Zomig. These are the prescription medicines used most frequently for the treatment of migraine headaches.
  • ergots such as dihydroergotamine or ergotamine with caffeine (Cafergot).
  • isometheptene, known as Midrin.

Some of these medicines work by narrowing the blood vessels, so they should not be taken by someone at risk for heart attacks. It is important to work with a health care provider in using these medicines.

For migraine sufferers who experience nausea during an attack, there is help in the form of nausea medicines such as prochlorperazine. Also, if nausea keeps migraine sufferers from taking other pain medications by mouth, some of the medications are available as a nasal spray, suppository, or injection.

Preventing the Migraine Attacks

If a person’s migraines are frequent and not easily controlled, a health care provider may prescribe medications to reduce the number of migraine attacks. The University of Maryland Medical Center website describes these medications as:
  • antidepressants such as amitriptyline
  • blood pressure medicines such as beta blockers (like propanolol) or calcium channel blockers (like verapamil)
  • seizure medication such as valproic acid, gabepentin, or topiramate
  • serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as venlafaxine
  • selective norepinephrine uptake inhibitor (SNRIs) such as duloxetine

Using Biofeedback to Control the Causes of Migraines

For the person seeking help for migraines, biofeedback training is another possible treatment of migraine headaches. The headache sufferer can be trained to be aware of the stressful situations that might possibly cause a migraine. In some situations, they can use biofeedback (controlling heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, skin temperature, etc.) to prevent the attack before it becomes a major problem.

Working with a health care provider, a migraine sufferer might be able to use one or more of these migraine headache remedies to fight the crippling pain and nausea that often accompanies a migraine attack.

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Natural Constipation Relief for Adults

natural constipation relief

Every individual will experience constipation during some point in their lives, but those who are pregnant and the elderly may experience this condition with increased frequency. The National Institute of Health (NIH) in conjunction with the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) have determined over 4 million adults experience constipation frequently, and use over-the-counter (OTC) remedies as treatment in a majority of cases. Most individuals perceive this condition as a medical problem when it is only a temporary condition, but it can be a symptom of the body not functioning properly and can potentially be the result of a medical condition.

About Constipation

The average person believes if a bowel movement does not occur once a day, the body is experiencing constipation. However, this condition is only present when a movement occurs less than three times a week. Other symptoms may include, but are not limited to:
  • Straining during bowel movements
  • Bloating
  • Feeling of fullness
  • Sensation of blockage

Also, this symptom has two forms, acute and chronic. Acute conditions last for a period of less than three months, and can be resolved thorough lifestyle changes and temporary use of over-the-counter products. Chronic conditions last for three months or longer and are the result of multiple causes and a potential medical condition.

Causes of Constipation

Finding constipation relief starts with determining the source of the problem, and a majority can be resolved through various lifestyle changes. Causes include, but are not limited to:
  • Fiber intake – a diet low in fiber, high in fats or a combination of these two factors can cause this symptom to appear. Increasing fiber intake by eating fruits, vegetables and grains while decreasing fatty foods such as eggs, cheese and milk can relive the effects of constipation naturally.
  • Dehydration – Hard stools can result because of the lack of fluids in the body, making them difficult to pass through the intestines. Beverages such as soda, alcohol and coffee can increase the effects of constipation, individuals should choose water and juice to increase fluids and hydrate the body.
  • Medications – Schedule an appointment with a physician if a medication is suspected to be causing constipation. Some medications can directly result in constipation or worsen an existing condition.
  • Lack of Activity – Increasing physical activity by walking or participating in mild to moderate exercise can provide constipation relief. It is believed activity can stimulate the action of the intestine, and can be used as a natural remedy.

Constipation Diagnosis, Prevention and Natural Remedies

A majority of cases of constipation will not require an official diagnosis by a doctor, and over-the-counter medications plus natural remedies can provide constipation relief. Consult a physician if needed, who will diagnose this condition through the use of medical history and physical examination. However, most cases of constipation can be relieved naturally through changing patterns of diet and exercise.

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Medical X-rays – Radiological Imaging From Film to Digital X-rays

medical x-rays

X-ray pictures were the earliest medical imaging technique. The first X-ray film of the human body was taken in 1895 by the discoverer of X-rays Wilhelm Röntgen, showing his wife’s left hand with her wedding ring. Despite the development of newer technologies such computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasonography, X-rays remain important for the diagnosis of many disorders.

Radiography Equipment

X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation, similar to visible light but with a wavelength shorter than can be seen with the human eye. In nature, X-rays are generated by violent events such as an exploding star. Medical X-rays, in contrast, are produced by passing a very large electrical voltage across a device called a vacuum or X-ray tube.

When the current strikes a metal target inside the vacuum tube, X-rays are emitted, travelling with such high energy that they are able to pass through opaque objects placed in their path, in the same way that light passes through transparent substances such as glass. When the object is a human body, pictures produced by the X-rays can be used to visualize and diagnose a wide range of conditions.

The appearance of different body tissues on an X-ray picture depends on how much each tissue blocks the passage of the radiation. Bone, which blocks the most radiation, appears white, while air, which blocks the least, appears black. Tissues other than bone are represented by various shades of grey.

Digital X-ray Imaging

Traditionally, medical X-ray images have been exposed onto photographic film. X-ray films require processing before they can be viewed, however, and take up large amounts of storage space in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Over recent years, digital X-rays have become increasingly popular for radiological imaging.

To obtain a digital X-ray picture, an electronic detector is used in place of a photographic film. This detector sends the signal produced by the X-rays to a computer, which converts the signal to a digital image that can be viewed on screen immediately and saved as required.

Radiological Imaging Using Medical X-rays

X-rays are especially useful for imaging the bones, but soft tissues such as the lungs and digestive system can also be viewed and X-ray images are important in the diagnosis of illnesses such as lung cancer and kidney stones.

Other applications of medical X-rays include:
  • dental X-rays, which can detect problems with the teeth at an early stage
  • mammography to screen for breast cancer (digital mammography and computer-aided detection of abnormalities in the breast are recent advances in this field)
  • fluoroscopy, which produces moving images used to examine the action of the gut or to guide a procedure such as implantation of a cardiac pacemaker.

Are Medical X-rays Safe?

As a type of radiation, any exposure to X-rays carries a risk of cancer. However, the amount of radiation produced by a single X-ray picture is extremely low compared with the background radiation that a person experiences every day from natural sources such as cosmic rays and radioactive minerals in the earth. Health professionals consider the benefits of an accurate diagnosis and treatment to far outweigh the small risk involved in X-ray imaging.

The risks of X-rays are greater for young children and unborn babies, but the doctor will always bear this in mind when deciding on the need for medical imaging.

Other Uses for X-rays in Medicine

X-rays are used to treat disease in the form of radiotherapy, while CT scanners employ multiple X-ray beams to produce detailed pictures of soft tissues as well as bones. However, a CT scan exposes the patient to more radiation than a conventional X-ray film or digital X-ray.

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Non-surgical Treatment Options for Lumbar DDD

treatment options for lumbar ddd

Most people suffering from lumbar degenerative disc disease can be successfully treated through a course of conservative, non-surgical care.

Heat and Ice Treatments

Localized applications of heat helps to increase blood flow, which aids in the healing process. Many patients use heat on stiff muscles and joints to increase flexibility and range of motion.

Applications of ice are used to decrease localized swelling, inflammation and pain associated with many different types of injuries.

Medications for DDD Pain Relief

A variety of medications may be prescribed to manage pain associated with degenerative disc disease. Mild pain can be relieved through the use of drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen and COX-2 inhibitors are used not only to manage pain, but to reduce swelling in the body as well.

Intense episodes of pain are typically managed with oral steroids, muscle relaxants or narcotics. Patients must be careful when using these medications due to their sedative effects, and in the case of narcotics, the potential for addiction.

Each situation is unique and some medications are not appropriate for all patients. Therefore, patients should always discuss medications, side effects and other factors with a physician prior to accepting any prescription.

Epidural Steroid Injections

Epidural steroid injections (ESI) are a common treatment option for low back and leg pain. The primary goal of ESIs is to relieve pain by delivering medication directly to the source. A secondary goal is to decrease inflammation around the damaged disc, providing healthy discs with an opportunity to repair themselves.

ESIs are given by using fluoroscopy to place a needle close to irritated nerve roots or directly into the foraminal space and bathing the area in a steroidal solution.

Chiropractic Manipulation to Relieve Pain

During the first month of therapy, acute and chronic low back pain and degenerative disc disease not associated with nerve compression may respond to chiropractic manipulation. Chiropractic care has the ability to relieve low back pain by taking pressure off sensitive nerves and tissue, reducing muscle tension, increasing range of motion and restoring blood flow to affected areas. These manipulations also may promote the release of natural endorphins within the body to act as natural painkillers.

Exercise Programs for Lumbar DDD

Exercise programs have proven to be successful in relieving pain from lumbar DDD. Elements of a good exercise program include:
  • Low-impact aerobic workouts such as walking, swimming and biking relieve pressure on the discs and provide better flow of blood and nutrients to spinal structures. Aerobics also improve muscular endurance, coordination and strength.
  • Hamstring stretches to reduce tightness, which increases stress on the back and pain caused by a damaged disc.
  • Other stretches to improve flexibility of the back and abdominal muscles. Flexion exercises may also help widen the foramen, which are small canals where nerve roots exit the spinal cord.
  • Strengthening exercises to increase support of the lower back and help patients find and maintain comfortable spine positions.

Patients should discuss exercise options with their doctor before starting any program. It is extremely important to stop participating in any exercise that increases pain levels until consulting with a physician.

Other Conservative Treatment Options

In addition to the above options, with the approval of a doctor, patients can try other treatments including:
  • Massage – Helpful for increasing blood flow and reducing muscle spasms.
  • Acupuncture – Helps control pain, but for best results, should be combined with an approved exercise program.
  • Pilates and yoga – Alternative forms of low-impact exercise that help increase both strength and flexibility.

Surgery is usually considered only for patients whose pain has not been relieved after six or more months of conservative therapy or those who have trouble performing everyday activities.

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