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Daily Choices - Can you choose the healthy options?

Every day we're forced to make decisions that affect our health. Following are five typical situations many of us will be faced with over the next week. See if you can decide which one is the healthier choice.

1. If you've only gotten seven hours of sleep, should you sleep an extra hour or get up and exercise?

Get up and exercise. A full eight hours of sleep isn't mandatory for good health, but regular exercise is. If you're having trouble getting up in the morning, start your exercise program outside in sunlight. The light will wake you up and leave you feeling more energized through the day.

Don't exercise if you've been pulling an all-nighter for work or school, have a new baby that's keeping you up or are being kept awake because of other short-term interruptions. In those cases sleep is more important than exercise. Too little sleep over time can contribute to cardiovascular disease, depression and obesity.

2. Should you eat a donut in the morning or skip breakfast entirely?

If that's your only choice, eat a donut. When you wake up your blood sugar is low and your body is depleting muscle for energy. You need to get something in your stomach. Choose the plain donuts, they'll have less fat and calories. Try and include a glass of low-fat or fat-free milk so you get protein too.

To avoid this problem, buy some apples, high fiber bread and peanut butter. As you're about to rush out the door grab an apple and spread some peanut butter on a slice of bread. You'll get fiber, good fats, carbs and protein all in an easy to go meal. If you can't spare even a minute for that, buy some meal replacement or protein bars that you can carry with you.

3. Can you workout right after you eat or should you wait at least an hour?

You don't have to wait unless you have a sensitive stomach. Once you start working out the blood flow is diverted away from your gastro intestinal system and to the muscle, so digestion and absorption of nutrients slow. If your stomach is sensitive it might take 30 to 60 minutes before food is digested enough that working out won't make you nauseous.

Timing a meal before your workout is a matter of personal preference, but eating one at the right time after is critical. Within an hour of finishing your exercises you need to eat some sort of protein and carbohydrates for optimum muscle growth.

4. To build the most muscle, which is better, working out four days a week or six?

For optimum muscle growth, about four days a week is ideal. A general rule is that each body part should get at least three days rest between workouts. More than that and you risk overtraining and injuring yourself. That doesn't mean you can't work out more often, just be sure to listen to your body and give it a rest if you feel too tired or sore.

5. Before doing an intense cardio session, what's a better warm-up, stretching or walking for 5 minutes?

Walking wins. When you warm up, you want to do a less intense version of the actual exercise. If you're going to run, start by walking and slowly increase the intensity.

Stretch muscles before they're warmed up and you risk injuring yourself. While stretching is important because it promotes flexibility, make sure to move it to the end of your workout when you're cooling down for best results.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.

12/23/2005