Dr. Zorba Paster: Exercise key to feeling better

January 5, 2019
David Stluka Portrait of Dr. Zorba Paster on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 in Oregon, Wis. (Photo by David Stluka)

I know what you’re thinking. Another column on exercise. You’re probably sick of it — all the talk as we start the New Year. Yet when new information comes out that just might help you get off your butt, I like to write about it. So here goes.

Exercise improves your mental health. Yes, we know it reduces death from all causes, especially heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer. But mental health? Yep, I can hear your thoughts, “Jeez, give me a break.”

But here’s the research. It’s a compendium of studies taking all the data, putting it in the pot and evaluating it to see what comes out. In total, 1.2 million people were in this research. That’s a lot of folks.

The study was from 2011 to 2015, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collected through the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. People took a weekly inventory of what they did, what they ate, whether the smoked, how much they exercised — the usual things. It also recorded how many days in the past month they had what you might call “mental health days,” most commonly depression, anxiety and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Folks who exercised, especially those who engaged regularly, had significantly fewer mental health days than those who didn’t. The exercises that topped the list were team sports, aerobic exercise and biking.

Researchers found that more exercise wasn’t necessarily better. Just doing something is what counted.

Whether middle-class or poor, educated or not, smoker or non-smoker, normally healthy or having medical problems — all had better mental health days with exercise.

My spin: It’s another reason to take up the banner of doing something. More than 10 years ago, I realized I was “allergic” to exercise. So for me, having a trainer work with me once a week has kept me regular. For others, it might be a class or a team sport.

Whatever it is, the days are getting longer and it’s time to shed the winter weight. Figure it out.

Dear Doc: I have post-herpetic nerve pain from a shingles infection five years ago. Will the new shingles vaccine be beneficial? — Amy from Oklahoma

Dear Amy: It won’t help your post herpetic neuralgia. For that, drugs such as a gabapentin or the Lidocaine patch are what you need. Unfortunately once you get it, the pain can continue for a long time.

But you do need the new shingles vaccine. The old one is about 60 percent effective, while the new one — a shot combo — is in the 90 percent range for effectiveness. Get it as soon as you can so your shingles doesn’t flare.

Hello, Doc: I enjoy listening to your show. You recently had a listener asking about vegan diets. You said everything except that vegans may require vitamin B12 supplementation. I’m not a vegan and never will be, but I have required B12 supplementation. Should everyone be tested? — G.Z. from Minnesota

Dear G.Z.: Vitamin B12 is only from animal sources. Studies years ago from vegans in India, lifelong vegans, showed many had normal vitamin B12 levels. Researchers wondered how that could be. So they took typical vegan food, ground it up and analyzed it for vitamins. B12 was in the mixture from — lo and behold, and hope you’re not too grossed out by this — insect parts.

Now, as for who needs supplementation, some people do because they don’t absorb vitamin B12 in part or at all from their gut. For some, the pill is OK but for others they need a monthly dose, or they develop pernicious anemia. Hope that offers a little insight on B12. Stay well.

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