Healthy Living

What's new in health, diet and nutrition.

Q. I want better muscle tone but am afraid that I’ll get big and bulky if I lift heavy weights. Is this true?

A. While many people think that lifting heavy weight bulks you up and that the best way to tone is with lighter weights and more repetitions, this is not supported by scientific evidence. Bulky muscles don’t come from weights alone but from extra calorie consumption as well.

As studies show, in order to lose weight and improve muscle tone, lifting heavier weights with fewer repetitions really helps to burn more energy, and it even provides a temporary metabolic boost after exercise. Always make sure that your doctor clears you for strength training, and seek out instruction and supervision from a certified trainer or exercise physiologist to avoid injury. Combine this with aerobic activity for optimal heart health.

While you might prefer one or the other type of exercise (most people do), it’s important to do both for health promotion. One is not “better” than the other, just different.

Summer Hydration
Enjoying the outdoor beauty of our summers in the Pittsburgh area is a major advantage of living in this region. But rising temperatures and humidity require extra fluid intake—more than many of us typically consume.

The recommendation is easy—when you’re thirsty, drink. While water is the go-to liquid, stick with low- and non-calorie beverages to avoid weight creep. And remember: “Clear” doesn’t mean low-calorie. Read the labels of your liquid-calorie choices!

Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth
Your oral health is a direct reflection of your general health, and foods can have both a positive and negative impact on your dental health.

The best foods stimulate saliva production, which washes away the debris sticking to your teeth that promotes decay. Choose raw vegetables and fruits—such as apples, carrots and celery—that act as mini-toothbrushes as you crunch away.

For strong tooth structure, keep up your calcium intake by consuming low- and nonfat dairy products.

The worst foods? Sticky, sugary foods including sucking candy, lollipops and dried fruit are particular culprits. Sugary drinks, from sodas to sweet teas, all contribute to bacterial plaque growth that promotes decay.

Some foods can stain your teeth—including red wine, coffee, tea and berries. Try using a straw to minimize contact.

A good remedy when you consume a sugary or high-stain food is to rinse well with water to clean your teeth. Sugarless gum also is a saliva-booster. Brush and floss twice a day, and follow up with your dentist at least once a year.

In the News

“Popchips” Come to Pittsburgh
Salt and crunch create an unbeatable edible combination for many people—often in the form of a chip. But it’s a real challenge to find a brand that keeps salt, fat and calories controlled as part of a healthy diet.

Enter the Popchip, which is a potato that is neither baked nor fried but popped, as in popcorn or rice cake.

The popchip comes closest in taste and texture to potato chips. With only 3 grams of fat and 240 milligrams of salt in a 100-calorie single-serve bag—that’s 17 chips—it’s a smart snack when you’re looking for a small indulgence. This snack is available in a variety of flavors— barbecue, salt and pepper, cheddar cheese and sour cream and onion.

Recently the chips have become available in the Pittsburgh area at local Target stores. Not near a Target? You can order the 100-calorie bags from

Dr. Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., C.N.S., is the founder and director of UPMC’s Weight Management Center. She is the diet and nutrition editor for NBC’s “Today Show” and is the author of The Runner’s Diet. Also, visit “Health Journal with Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom,” a health and wellness blog at

 Top Docs Q+A

We asked Dr. James Wilberger, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Allegheny General Hospital:

Q: I spend hours each day working at a desk. What can I do during and after the workday to relieve tension in my back, shoulders and neck?

A: Tension in the back, shoulders and neck may be caused by maintaining one body position for long periods of time. It is important to change positions at regular intervals by simply standing or sitting for one to two minutes or by taking a short walk around the office.

Make sure your computer monitor is at eye level and the keyboard is in a comfortable working position to avoid undue stress on the neck and shoulders. Sit in a chair with good back support to avoid excess stress on the lower back.

Some specific movements or postures, many of which are based on yoga principles, may help release tension. One is simply shrugging the shoulders 15 to 20 times in two or three intervals each day.

For the neck, alternate rotations from right to left and flex chin to chest for five seconds, 10 to 12 times several times a day.

For the lower back, similar side-to-side and forward bending motions reduce muscle tightness and tension.

It is important to maintain a reasonable level of physical activity for back and neck health. Aerobic activities—brisk walking, jogging, bicycling or exercising on a treadmill or an elliptical—are the best ways to maintain overall health and well-being. Specifically for the back, it is important to maintain a healthy weight and to pay attention to the mechanics of lifting.

Most tension-related spine problems are short-lasting and can be relieved using the techniques previously described or by taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. If significant discomfort persists or there are symptoms affecting an arm or leg, seek medical attention.

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Categories: Top Doctors