First Aid Handbook


Pain-relieving creams

When used as directed, methyl salicylate, the chemical in topical pain relievers causes a warming sensation and helps dull muscle aches; but if used in high doses or for weeks at a time, it can build up in the bloodstream, causing dizziness, shallow or rapid breathing, and nausea. (Ringing in your ears is usually the first sign of an overdose.) If you're rubbing on the creams for occasional aches, don't worry-just follow the dosage instructions. If the soreness doesn't subside, see your doctor. Never mix muscle ache rubs; stick to one formula at a time.

Ease charley horses

Charley horses are leg cramps caused by involuntary muscle contractions. If you're getting them when you're resting, chances are they're triggered by dehydration or a mineral deficiency-often sodium, potassium, or magnesium. Some medications, including diuretics and cimetidine (a heartburn reliever), may also be the culprit.

To prevent these cramps: drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, eat high-potassium foods such as bananas and oranges, and stretch your calves before you go to bed. If you wake up with a cramp, walk around for a few minutes, massage the area, and then stretch. If that doesn't relieve your pain, or the cramp recurs daily for a week, see a doctor.

Cool down

You ran your loop in record time, but before you sit down and bask in the glory, take a walk. Doing an activity at a lower intensity helps your heart, lungs, and blood flow return to their normal state. If you abruptly stop moving, blood pools in the muscles you were using, which can cause dizziness and fainting. To cool down, spend five to 10 minutes (depending on how intense your workout was) exercising at a rate of perceived exertion, or RPE, of 3. Then stretch, holding each move for 10 to 30 seconds. (If you ended your workout with strength training, just stretch.)

The four levels of the RPE scale:

RPE 3-4 Easy to moderate; you should be able to maintain this level and carry on a conversation with minimal effort.

RPE 5-6 Moderate; you can maintain this level and have a conversation with some effort.

RPE 7-8 Difficult; maintaining this level and having a conversation requires quite a bit of effort.

RPE 8-9 Peak effort; you won't be able to maintain this level for more than 3-4 minutes; no-talking zone.

Get your daily dose of D

In a recent study at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, people who had high levels of vitamin D in their blood were significantly stronger during a grip-strength test than those with lower amounts. Vitamin D deficiencies have been associated with muscle weakness, possibly because the nutrient regulates calcium-crucial for protein synthesis-and a hormone that helps build muscle. For maximum strengthening and added protection from many diseases, including several forms of cancer, you need at least 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day. One cup of fortified yogurt or milk will give you 100 IU; a serving of fortified cereal such as Total, the whole shebang.

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