Fish oil, the flu and infomercials

Expert answers to your health and wellness questions.

Question: It seems that more and more people are taking fish oil these days. Is this something you recommend?

Jay’s answer: You’re absolutely right. Fish oil is becoming very popular and for good reason. There are a number of health benefits associated with this supplement and I do feel that it’s worth the money. First of all, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil generally are considered anti-inflammatory, while omega-6 fatty acids are considered pro-inflammatory. Unfortunately traditional Western diets are much higher in omega-6s compared to omega-3s, so trying to incorporate more omega-3s into your diet makes sense.

In addition, omega-3s have been shown to lower triglycerides levels, reduce heart attack and stroke risk, slow the build-up of artery plaque and slightly lower blood pressure. And if that’s not enough, they also have been studied extensively for their neuroprotective effects related to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and depression. If you decide to supplement with fish oil, typical dosages start at 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA (the two prominent fatty acids) per day. Make sure that your fish oil supplement bottle lists the origin of the fish. Some of the cheaper versions contain fish sources with questionable levels of mercury.

Question: Cold and flu season is upon us. Can you provide a little refresher on working out when you’re sick?

Jay’s answer: Everyone seems to have a different opinion on this, but here’s my 2 cents. Working out is probably fine if it’s just a head cold with stuffy nose, mild coughing or other light symptoms, but if you have a fever, body aches or other more serious symptoms, you should take some time off. If you do workout with a cold, you should do only light to moderate cardio (nothing intense), avoid the resistance training for a few days, and be considerate of those you might be working out next to!

When I’m working out, I don’t really want people who are sneezing and coughing around me — and I would guess you don’t either. A more important question might be: Does exercise help prevent colds?
According to a recent study from Appalachian State University, exercising four to five times per week can cut incidence of colds by nearly half and severity of symptoms by 40 percent. Lead researcher David Nieman explained that a bout of cardio exercise sparks a temporary rise in immune cells that circulate around the body attacking foreign invaders. I love that!

Question: I have several friends who follow some of the popular workouts that you often see touted in infomercials and on the Internet. Do you think it’s worth the money to invest in one?

Heidi’s answer: I am familiar with the infomercial exercise programs that promote “muscle confusion” and promise amazing results. Take some video footage of some folks smiling and apparently having fun while exercising, add a genetic freak who happens to be a fitness expert with a vibrant personality, along with some enthusiastic testimonials, and you’ve got a very attractive product.

Do these types of programs work? Sure they do, if you follow the program, stay committed, push yourself (all alone in your living room) and manage not to injure yourself. Given those criteria, I think you are wise to consider your options carefully.

In most cases I don’t recommend these for those over 45. Plus, I would argue that a certified personal trainer at your local fitness center could design a better workout for you, simply because it’s personalized specific to your needs as opposed to the masses. A good trainer will take into account your personal health statistics, orthopedic limitations if any, fitness level, time constraints, level of motivation and many other variables. And he or she will be there with you, in person, to help you get started.

So, is it worth the money to purchase one of these infomercial programs? It might be, but your success really comes down to you and your ability to apply what you see on the TV screen, sort the safe from the not so safe, and individualize it to your own body and fitness level. I’d recommend you get some face-to-face help from a trainer instead.

Jay Bryan is an exercise physiologist and Heidi Bryan is a certified personal trainer. To ask Jay or Heidi a question, e-mail them at:



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