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Age can add more than years

Question: I have been a runner to stay in shape and maintain weight for the last 20 years. I do about 12 to 15 miles a week. But over the last four or five years, I've found it increasingly difficult to keep the pounds off and my waistline under control even though my diet has not changed. Can you explain this weight gain?

Answer: Most of us will experience a gradual but persistent increase in body fat between our 20th and 60th birthdays that is not associated with eating more. Actually, we usually eat less as we get older. It's a result of muscle loss, a loss that is a natural and more or less inevitable part of aging.

This muscle change is related to fat gain in a major way. Muscles use a lot of energy; even at rest a pound of muscle burns 30 to 50 calories a day. Therefore, when muscle tissue atrophies, for whatever reason, fewer calories are consumed by the body. So without some adjustment in exercise, diet or both, we fatten up. And this change can be dramatic _ for many sedentary individuals, fat weight, as a percent of total body weight, can double over the years.

Adding to the waistline problem, as our metabolism changes with age, we store more fat around the waist and less in other parts of our body. For instance, we deposit less fat just under the skin. This is why our skin appears to be thinner as we get older.

You may be surprised that as a dedicated runner you are still losing muscle. But this is not uncommon. Dr. Michael Pollock, director of the University of Florida Center for Exercise Science, who has been following individual master athletes for 20 years, has found that most runners who only run lose muscle in their upper bodies. He also discovered that the runners who also lift weights do not experience the same muscle loss. So try incorporating some upper body weight training into your exercise program. At just about any age, this exercise can build muscle mass which, of course, will maintain strength, along with burning calories.

How to keep the lead out of your wine

Question: At a dinner the other night, someone in the group said the government has been finding lead in wines. Is this true?

Answer: Not exactly. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently reported that 3 percent to 4 percent of table wines the agency had tested contained more than 300 parts per billion (ppb) of lead. This amount is high enough to be a health hazard, particularly for pregnant women. Even minute amounts of lead can impair an unborn child's mental capacity.

But the problem is not the wine itself, thank goodness. It's the lead foil that helps to keep the bottle air tight and prevents the cork from being infested by insects and molds. Apparently, when the bottle is opened, lead salt deposits are left on the rim. And these dissolve into the wine as it is poured. Fortunately, you can easily avoid this by peeling all the lead from the top and neck of the bottle and only then removing the cork. Next, before you pour the wine, wipe the rim of the bottle and cork with a damp cloth or with a cloth moistened with a touch of vinegar or lemon juice. Cheers!

While we're on the subject, don't store wine or other spirits in crystal decanters. Over time the lead from the crystal can bleed into the wine. Drinking out of crystal glasses is okay, however, since the liquor normally does not stand long enough in the glass to become contaminated with lead.

Write with questions to Dr. Patrick J. Bird, Dean of the College of Health and Human Performance, University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. 32611.


The Health & Fitness pages are coordinated by Jim Melvin. Comments may be addressed to: Jim Melvin, St. Petersburg Times, Floridian, P.O. Box 419, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33731-0419.