Mind, Body, Spirit


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Illustration by Paula RomaniThe Ultimate FITNESS SHOWDOWN:

Cardio vs. Weights

Which is better for burning calories, doing cardio or lifting weights? The answer is as difficult, it seems, as running long-distance and bench-pressing 50 pounds.

You will burn more calories doing cardio, says Lenny Sarrero, a personal trainer in Briarcliff Manor. “Even though I love weights, you’re not going to burn as many calories. With aerobics, your heart rate rises and stays there the entire time you work out. You end up burning more calories because your heart rate stays elevated.”

But...“Cardiovascular activity, let’s say running or biking, will burn more calories,” says Dr. Michael Cushner, an orthopedic surgeon with practices in White Plains and Yonkers. “But the calories will burn more effectively if you lift weights.” The reason?

Muscle tissue requires a lot of energy to exist and function. So the greater your muscle mass, the more calories you need to sustain that musculature. Therefore the more muscle, the more calories you’ll burn doing the same cardio activity you did before you added the extra muscle. Plus, strengthening muscles helps avoid common cardio-related injuries, such as joint sprains. So, while you may want to hit the treadmill to burn off that extra slice of cheesecake, make sure to also pick up the weights to help burn it off even faster.

Counting calories

We’ve all been there: after a grueling workout on the treadmill, we glance down at the calorie counter and are particularly satisfied with the number we’ve burned. Or, at least, the number we think we’ve burned. Because, as it turns out, the digits displayed are not a very accurate measurement at all.

“Calorie counters are usually set to calculate calories for a certain size person,” reports Andrew Guida, exercise physiologist and fitness director at the Saw Mill Club in Mount Kisco. So, let’s say the person is a 150-pound male. Specific scientific data will be used to calculate the number of calories that man will burn at a given speed, difficulty, and time. That result is what is displayed on the screen. As can be imagined, if a 100-pound female and a 250-pound male are running at the same speed, difficulty, and time, their caloric outputs will be vastly different. Accuracy increases when machines allow you to enter your age, weight, height, and gender but, again, the number will never be an exact numerical measurement because of varying fitness levels.

Jim Zahniser, spokesperson for Precor, a fitness equipment manufacturing company, notes, “Basically, the workout machines are extremely accurate as generalized norms. But they are not absolutely accurate to an individual.” The company recommends a fitness test be done for an exact measurement. “Only with that detailed information can you make tight correlations.”

Another important factor, Guida notes, is calibration of the machines. “As machines get older, they tend to get a little out of whack, which will affect the formulas put into the machine.” This can go so far as to affect the speed at which you’re running. If you set the machine to run at a speed of 6.0, and the machine is not calibrated correctly, you could in reality be running only at a 5.6 speed.

So, how do you avoid the need to watch the numbers? “The point is that, as long as you’re out there working for the right amount of time and at the right intensity for you, you’re doing well,” Guida says. Or, just throw a towel over the display and keep on moving.

Staying Healthy at the Gym

While working up a sweat on the treadmill, most of us are not thinking about the germs we might be contracting. But the gym, with its close quarters and large number of people using the same equipment, can actually cause the spread of the flu, fungal infections, or even MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), the much talked-about form of staph infection that is resistant to common antibiotics. But this shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid the gym. We consulted two of the county’s leading infectious-disease specialists to find out what you can do to protect yourself.

Wash your hands “The best thing you can do is wash your hands with soap and water, or carry a bottle of Purell hand sanitizer,” says Dr. Peter Berkey, the chief of infectious disease at St. Joseph’s Medical Center and St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers. Dr. Peter Welch, who has an office in Armonk, explains that most germs are spread by touching and not through the air. And, he warns, “washing your hands thoroughly does not mean a three-second rinse. It means scrubbing for about a minute so you can really decontaminate your skin.”

Wear shoes “Showers are a nice place for bacteria and fungus to grow,” Dr. Berkey says. The moist air and heat in communal gym showers (as well as in hot tubs) can be a breeding groud for bacteria. Fungal infections such as athlete’s foot or onychomycosis, an infection of the nails that can cause them to become yellow and brittle, can be contracted if you don’t take the proper precautions. Both doctors advise wearing flip-flops in the shower and locker room.

Wipe down machines Although Dr. Berkey stresses that wiping down machines before and after use is not enough (wash those hands!), he says it is still a good idea to do it.

“It’s good, but it doesn’t really get done,” he explains. To start the trend in your gym, wipe down the machines before and after use to, as Dr. Welch explains, avoid the spread of germs through touch. If someone is sick and then sweats on the machines or wipes their nose and then touches the equipment, you can contract their germs—that can cause staph, which can survive on machines for a few hours, or other infections.



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