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January news tips from the UT Health Science Center

BE REALISTIC ABOUT FITNESS . . . What questions should you ask the doctor before starting your 2003 fitness program? Limits on exercise generally are based on common sense and your medical history, says Timothy O. Jones, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Health Science Center. "Don't overdo if you're out of shape," he says. "Start your program slowly and gradually increase. Don't expect results in two weeks. In three months, you might start seeing some results that aren't necessarily your final goals. You can't expect results until you are able to work out often enough — and intensely enough — to make a difference." In other words, don't expect immediate gratification, especially if you have gotten so far out of shape that the task looks like climbing Mount Everest. Significant medical problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, will influence your fitness plan, Dr. Jones adds.

TEDDY THE ALLERGEN? . . . Those cuddly teddy bears are a perennial holiday favorite, but they may not be as lovable come the spring, when the dust in your child's room has had time to settle. The teddy bear's fibers may provide a home for dust mites — which are among the many allergens that can contribute to children's allergies and even trigger asthma, says Terry S. LeGrand, Ph.D., R.R.T., assistant professor of respiratory care at the Health Science Center. "I hate to say get rid of all teddy bears, but if you start noticing your child is wheezing or coughing, or is short of breath from running and playing, those are signs of breathing difficulties," she says. "We do not recommend teddy bears for children with asthma." A brand-new teddy bear probably isn't a big problem for non-asthmatic children, but as bears sit around bedrooms, or a child insists on sleeping with the bear, the threat to breath may deepen, she notes.

TENSE TEETH . . . The holidays may be over, but some people are dealing with the aftermath. Anxiety over shopping debt or weight gain, or exhaustion from packed holiday schedules, can be enough to make some clench their teeth, which can lead to bigger problems. Bruxism, the term for teeth grinding or jaw clenching, can cause tooth wear, tooth fractures, sore jaws and dull headaches. "The stress of daily life is one of the major causes of bruxism for adults. Like many stress-related conditions, it usually stops by age 45 or 50," says John D. Rugh, Ph.D., professor and chairman of orthodontics at the Health Science Center. "Bruxism in children may be caused by stress or may be related to growth and development. It usually disappears by age 11." Dentists can fit patients with mouth guards to protect teeth during sleep, the time when most people grind or clench their teeth. But if stress is the main factor in your bruxism, try to relax. Dr. Rugh suggests a New Year's resolution to modify your lifestyle to reduce stress. Elimination of the bruxism may be one measure of success.

Contact: Will Sansom or Aileen Salinas