— Not just for building strong bones, calcium can do it all from lowering blood pressure to whittling your waistline

If you thought calcium was only good for your bones, think again. Calcium does your whole body good. Recent studies have shown that calcium may help reduce and prevent high blood pressure, aid in weight loss, ease PMS symptoms, and possibly lower your risk of developing colon cancer.

High blood pressure
Dozens of studies have implicated calcium as a key player when it comes to normalizing blood pressure. The most promising results come from the large, Federally funded DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) trial. Subjects with high-normal or mild hypertension who consumed a diet rich in low-fat dairy products as well as fruits and vegetables significantly lowered their blood pressure without losing any weight or cutting back on their salt intake. What’s more, the blood pressure benefits were noted within only two weeks. Participants consumed about 1,200 mg of calcium daily, the amount found in about three cups of milk. Researchers speculate that the calcium relaxes the smooth muscle in arteries, widening the pathways and thereby lowering high blood pressure.

Colon cancer
Studies have linked high-fat diets to colon cancer because the fatty acids and the bile acids released to digest these fats seem to stimulate abnormal cell proliferation in the colon. However, a few glasses of milk may be able to reverse this whole process. Research has shown that calcium may bind with these carcinogens and inhibit abnormal growth. In fact, a University of Minnesota study found that about 2,000 mg of daily calcium reduced abnormal cell proliferation in the colon while another study found that just 1,200 mg did the trick.

Here’s a new way to justify those premenstrual ice cream binges: It may actually help ease all those debilitating symptoms. One study tracked about 500 women with severe PMS for three menstrual cycles. About half the women took two calcium supplements twice each day, which gave them a total of 1,200 mg of calcium, while the other half took a placebo. Starting with the second menstrual cycle, those who took the supplements experienced progressively less moodiness, water retention, food cravings, headaches and low-back pain. By the end of the study, the calcium supplement group had a 50 percent reduction in PMS symptoms compared with a 30 percent reduction in the placebo group. Researchers believe that PMS may signal a chronic deficiency or imbalance of calcium, thereby increasing not only a woman’s discomfort once a month but also her risk for osteoporosis later in life.

Weight loss
Dairy products are usually the first foods to go when people embark on a weight loss program. If you’re one of them, you may want to reconsider. Albeit unclear, calcium is believed to play a role in weight loss. Studies in mice suggest that low-calcium diets help stimulate hormones that encourage fat storage. High-calcium diets seem to have the opposite effect by suppressing these weight-gain hormones so that the mice stay thin. On the human side of things, one study at Purdue University found that women who consumed only 700 mg of calcium gained body fat while those on the same diet who got 1,000 to 1,200 mg per day maintained or lost body fat.

To reap all these possible benefits, shoot for three to four servings of calcium-rich foods (about 1,200 mg) per day. Although calcium-fortified foods, such as orange juice and cereals, are a convenient way to up your daily total, you may be better off sticking to good old dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese. Not only are you getting a whole host of extra vitamins and minerals, such as riboflavin and vitamins A and D, dairy products are what Mother Nature intended and so may be absorbed more efficiently than a synthetic food. Also, don’t rely solely on calcium-rich vegetables, such as broccoli or mustard greens. You’d have to eat them by the truckload to reach your requirement. It takes three cups of cooked broccoli to equal the calcium in one cup of milk. Check out the chart below to make sure your diet doesn’t fall short.

Manners matter in class: exercise etiquette to follow when you work out. Four etiquette pointers to keep you from making gym class blunders

— A crowded exercise class is no place to forget your manners. Here’s how to be on your best behavior while you’re bettering your body:

1. Stick to the back of the class until you know the ways of the workout. Don’t confuse (and annoy) the regulars with missteps and not-too-smooth maneuvers.

2. Don’t stand too close to others. Respect your neighbors’ personal space during class; they’ll be happier and you’ll be far less likely to be on the receiving end of an accidental punch or kick.

3. Making minor modifications to the workout due to injuries or personal limitations is fine, but doing your own routine is both disrespectful to your instructor and distracting to your classmates. If you want to dance to a different drummer, pick another class.

4. Keep your personal possessions (water bottle, towel, gym bag) against the wall and out of the way, and keep your personal aromas (perfume, aftershave) to a minimum.

Do you power through your stairclimber workout with a death grip on the handrails? Boost your calorie burn and get more out of your cardio workout by learning to let go.

(Folkcare) — Are you one of those folks who hammer away on the stairclimber while holding on to the handrails? Then it’s time to let go—you’re only doing yourself a disservice. You see, holding on means your arms don’t move. And if your arms don’t move, you burn fewer calories for every minute of exercise. In addition to burning fewer calories, you’re making it easier on your body to get through the workout. Isn’t the purpose of working out to get stronger by stressing the body?

Why does it burn more calories?

Swinging your arms involves more muscle groups. The more muscles you have working, the more energy your body uses to do the exercise. Getting those arms into the exercise can have a significant affect on the benefits you get from your workout. This does not just apply to the stairclimber. Handrail abuse has become prevalent on elliptical trainers and treadmills, and the benefits of letting go apply. In fact, it has been shown that just walking with an exaggerated arm swing can increase caloric expenditure by 50 to 75 percent over a normal arm swing. Arm swinging has the additional bonus of toning the shoulders.

So why are there handrails at all?

They are there so that you have something to grab on to if you lose your balance or while taking a drink. If you need constant balance support, one or two hands lightly gripping the rail should be enough. Holding on with both hands, with your arms straight supporting your body weight, is just plain cheating. In effect, you are reducing your body weight so your legs have to work less. In addition to less calorie burn, you are getting less out of the exercise for your heart, lungs and leg muscles. Supporting yourself on the handrails reduces the hip, trunk and ankle muscle involvement so that they get less endurance and strength benefits.

Are there other risks of holding on?

There have been many documented cases of wrist injuries from the traditional stairclimber grip position (hands backward on the rails with elbows locked). Problems like tendonitis, carpal-tunnel syndrome and median nerve compression have been linked to handrail gripping. Leaning on your hands in the treadmill or elliptical trainer are likely to result in similar problems over time.

What is the best approach to letting go?

The first step is to try letting go while you are warming up and cooling down. The pace is slower, and you will probably feel more comfortable taking your hands off. Next, try letting go while you are in full exercise mode. Just do short periods until you get used to it. Chances are you will immediately notice that you are fatiguing quicker. This is a good sign. Remember that the benefits of exercise are linked to how much the work stresses your body, not what the display reads. If you find yourself caught up in looking at the numbers, throw a towel over the display. Use your heart rate or sense of how hard you are working to judge your pace. You’ll get more out of every minute by just letting go of the handrails.

Christine “CC” Cunningham is the owner of performENHANCE sport and adventure athlete training in Chicago. She is a frequent writer and lecturer on personal training, functional exercise and human performance enhancement.