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COUNTERING ALCOHOL'S UNFAVORABLE EFFECTS

Traditionally, the holiday season is marked by an increased consumption of alcohol, whether it's brandied eggnog with Christmas carols or a touch of the bubbly to toast the new year. Like most things, alcohol is not harmful in moderation, but if you exercise, here are some things you should know about its effects.

Alcohol dehydrates, and because athletes lose enough water already, it's important to counter the effects of drinking. Experts suggest downing a glass of water for every alcoholic drink and heeding the guidelines of moderate consumption -- two drinks per day for men, one for women.

Alcohol is absorbed directly from the stomach into the bloodstream, appearing within five minutes of ingestion. Hence, it's not recommended as post-workout refreshment on an empty stomach.

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is not a good source of carbohydrates and should not be used for "carbo-loading."

Because alcohol is a depressant, it impairs mental and physical skills, such as balance, accuracy, reaction time, visual tracking and eye-hand coordination, and it decreases athletic performance, even 24 hours later.

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to raise your spirits without raising a glass. In addition to providing a "natural high," regular workouts leave you feeling energetic, refreshed and ready for action.

For those who prefer exercising at home, here's a move that you can add to your step aerobic routines. Always begin your workouts with at least five minutes of gentle movements to warm up all the major muscles groups.

Begin by turning the step lengthwise and placing one foot on either side about midway. Step up onto the platform with your right leg, and extend your left leg to the side. Make sure your knees and toes point forward, and that you don't kick your leg too high.

Now step down to the floor with your left foot, then your right, before reversing the movements by stepping up with your left foot and extending your right leg to the side. Continue alternating sides until you do eight to 16 repetitions. Combine this move with others for a workout of 10 to 30 minutes duration. Follow it with five to 10 minutes of slow cool-down and stretching exercises.

If you perform the movement correctly, keeping your extended leg low and controlled, you'll got the added bonus of muscle strengthening. Try to feel the muscles on the outside of your hip working as you lift and extend your free leg. If you focus on squeezing these muscles to lift the leg gently, instead of kicking it up, you'll get the most out of your efforts.

Remember, when using a step, always keep an eye on your platform to make sure you are placing your entire foot squarely on the step.

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