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How Your Workout Gear Could Be Bad For Your Health

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Workout clothing has come a long way from the sweat-stained jogging suits of the 1980s: Today’s exercise gear is multi-colored, form-fitting, and attractive enough that most people don’t mind running errands while still in their gym attire.

Unfortunately, the dwindling habit of changing immediately after exercising is having some unpleasant consequences. The tight fabrics popular in yoga, for example, have been increasingly linked to a variety of skin conditions. Speaking with Today.com, dermatologist Lauren Ploch said that she’s seen issues ranging from irritation to bacterial infections as a result of excessive wear.

Because your sweat is unable to escape in many modern designs, moisture and lack of circulation can result in intertrigo, or itchy and scaly patches in skin folds; folliculitis, an infection of hair follicles; and tinea cruris, a fungal infection typically found near the groin. Workout fashion can also promote inflammation on the back or rear end, leading to acne breakouts.

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One solution: stop working out. If that sounds too dramatic, experts advise not waiting any longer than an hour to shower. If you think you’ll be longer, it’s best to change out of your sweaty clothes until you can and keep them separated in your gym bag.

But not all workout gear issues can be solved with soap and water. Compression clothing—sometimes used in athletics for perceived performance enhancement or muscle soreness relief—can affect the body in other ways. A nerve condition called meralgia paresthetica, typically seen in people with rapid weight gain, can result from excessively tight shorts and cause tingling or numbness in the thighs. It’s best to restrict their use to short durations.

If your problem is more odorous in nature, try to ditch polyester: bacteria seem to enjoy hanging out on the fabric more than cotton.

[h/t Today]

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Smiling Could Improve Your Athletic Performance—But Your Grins Can't Be Fake
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Athletes obviously enjoy breaking a sweat, but it’s not often that you’ll see one break into a smile while in the throes of competition. Yet that’s exactly what many coaches instruct them to do: Grinning mid-race has been said to relax muscles and boost physical performance. Recently, a group of researchers put this theory to the test, according to The New York Times. Their findings were published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Researchers from Ulster University in Northern Ireland and Swansea University in Wales instructed a group of 24 non-professional runners—both men and women—to shift between smiles and scowls while running on a treadmill. The volunteers were told that the experiment would measure how certain factors affected the amount of oxygen they used while jogging at various running speeds.

For the experiment’s first stage, runners wore face masks that measured their breathing. As they exercised until fatigue, researchers asked them to rate how they felt and report their coping strategies—for example, whether were they ignoring their pain or embracing it.

The study’s second segment required volunteers to engage in four individual runs, each lasting for six minutes. Mid-run, they were told to smile both genuinely and continuously, to scowl, to relax their torsos using a visualization technique, or to simply fall back on their usual endurance mindsets.

Smiles didn’t always improve runners’ performances. A few subjects picked up the pace while grimacing, possibly because these “game faces” made them ultra-determined to beat their personal records. But overall, runners with smiles were nearly 3 percent more efficient than normal. While seemingly insignificant, this difference is large enough to affect someone’s race performance, experts say.

Keeping in mind the study’s small size, the authors conclude that exercising while smiling might reduce muscular tension and thus amp up performance. But in order to gain this positive effect, athletes must beam genuinely. Fake smiles, like the kind you’ll see in school pictures, don’t work as many facial muscles, and therefore result in lower levels of relaxation.

Since it’s hard for anyone (let alone a focused athlete) to maintain an authentic smile during prolonged periods of strenuous activity, scientists suggest smiling near a race’s end, in 30-second intervals.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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