We’ve got a nice pair of questions for today’s Dear Mark . In the first, a young woman who’s perhaps the most intuitively active person I’ve ever heard about asks whether or not she should incorporate a dedicated, formal workout to her schedule of skiing, playing with dogs, hiking, manipulating heavy bags of dog food (in a physical sense, not an emotional sense), yoga, and rafting. You guys might be able to guess the gist of my response, but read on to find out what I say. In the second, a guy asks about topical ointments that promote wound healing. As a response, I discuss the standard over the counter ointments (antibiotic ointments, petroleum jelly-based ointments) as well as the more “natural” alternatives like honey, coconut oil, and garlic.
I was wondering if playing replaces workouts. I am lucky to be able to play a lot (well it wasn’t lucky, I planned it this way). Winter and spring I am usually skiing 2-3 times a week. I camp out at the ski area/resort, ski sidecountry and backcountry. So I do a lot of skiing and hiking in my ski boots with a backpack to get to the steep and deep. I hike my dogs anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hrs a few or more days a week and daily in the summer. I manage a pet resort on the weekend. I usually work 3- 12 hour days on my feet playing with dogs, lifting dog food bags (5-60#), shoveling poo (glamourous!), etc. In summer and fall I replace skiing with just as much backpacking (I will stay out in the mountains all of my days off) and a little rafting. Sometimes if I feel tight, I might do a little 15 minutes of yoga once or twice a week. I mostly take a none-day once a week when I do absolutely nothing except sit at my house and try to veg out. Well sort of a veg out; this is usually my dogs big walk day and I clean my house, stock wood, catch up on some reading, craft some moccasins, and make more adventure plans! I am 32, 5’3″ and a steady 107 lbs. I was a vegetarian for 12 years and thank goodness for all that is playful, started eating meat 2 years ago. I sleep very well, I might need more of it than others (10-12 hrs a night) but I don’t drink coffee (yuk!) to get up in the mornings. I last longer than all of my ski gang, and my hiking partners although I go to bed a lot earlier than them. Sometimes I eat as much as my 220 lb husband. I don’t think I need to add any workouts but, sometimes feel a bit lazy for not. And, I am afraid I might lose weight if I do. I feel no desire to be ‘ripped’, I just want to have the stamina and strength to ski forever! So, would playing replace work outs? Would it be beneficial to add a workout?
Let me get this straight:
You ski 2-3 days a week for half the year. This involves carrying your skis by foot as you trudge up hills and through powder to reach the best spots.
For the other half the year, you backpack in the mountains and go river rafting.
Once or twice a week, you do yoga.
You go on hikes  upwards of 2 hours long 2-3 times a week in spring, winter, and fall, and you hike every day in the summer.
Weekends, you work long hours playing  with an entire resort full of the close descendants of quadrupedal carnivores. One popular game in dog  society is tug-of-war, a full body ordeal. You also perform power cleans with sixty pound bags of kibble and do weighted shovel exercises.
On your rest days, you do chores, carry wood, and go on dog hikes.
You sleep  10-12 hours a night and occasionally eat more than your 220 pound husband without gaining weight.
And you think you might need to add a dedicated workout to maintain your current level of fitness? I’d say you’re doing better than most. I’d say you absolutely don’t need to include a formal workout. In fact, I’d say you shouldn’t include one, because it might actually be detrimental to your goals. Less is more, especially when you’re already so active.
You’re staying in shape the way humans have been built to stay in shape: by maintaining a steady flow of low-level activity  punctuated with acute bouts of high intensity. Most importantly, you’re doing the most sustainable workout imaginable – one that you truly love doing. I wish I could maintain a schedule like that. Keep it up!
I was curious about your thoughts on first aid for minor cuts. If you are out running barefoot, or climbing trees, you’re bound to have some scratches! Would you recommend products like antibiotic ointments that you would rub into a cut to make it heal faster? Or do you know of something possibly more natural?
Thanks for all that you do!!
Antibiotic ointments like Neosporin are certainly good at preventing infection, they can certainly make cuts heal faster by preventing or stopping bacterial infection, and plenty of people will absolutely vouch for their efficacy, but they don’t always perform very well in clinical trials. In one recent study  of different ointments’ influence on wound healing time, Aquaphor Healing Ointment, whose active ingredient is simple petroleum jelly, beat both Neosporin and Polypsorin (an antibiotic ointment containing fewer antibiotics than Neosporin). Other studies have had similar results , concluding that petroleum jelly was just as effective than the more expensive antibiotic ointments. Antibiotic ointments also bring the potential for skin irritation or allergic reactions, a problem more inert ointments generally do not have; another study  found that Aquaphor Healing Ointment also caused less irritation than antibiotic ointments.
As to the gushing reports of Neosporin’s powers, I suspect a lot of it stems from lack of a proper control group. If all you ever put on your wounds is Neosporin and every wound has healed, you’ll assume that it “works,” even if it isn’t actually doing much. There’s also the chance that “dirty” wounds, like you might get out in the real world, are at a greater risk of infection and may benefit from topical antibiotics, whereas the controlled environments of clinical trials remove the risk of bacteria. There’s also evidence that antibiotic ointments are increasing the prevalence  of antibiotic-resistant bugs , including MRSA. That said, I find it likely that Neosporin works better than nothing at all, particularly if the wound is infected or at risk for infection (which you won’t know unless you test the wound).
Honey works well on wounds , acting as a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent and as a promoter of tissue healing. Thanks to many factors, including the antioxidant compounds, acidity, natural hydrogen peroxide content, osmotic effect, and as-yet unidentified compounds, it appears to stimulate tissue growth, reduce scar tissue formation, and increase epithelialization . The honey doesn’t even need to be raw as long as it’s actual, real honey (although unfiltered, raw honeys may have more bioactive compounds, also known as “impurities”). The only side effect of topical honey  is, to my knowledge, incitement of pooh bears. If you ever cut yourself walking through the woods of Sussex, England, skip the honey – particularly if you see any bipedal piglets wearing pink horizontal striped singlets. Though normally plush and giggly, the pooh bear is a fearsome predator when in the throes of honey lust. Don’t let the baby T fool you.
Coconut oil  is a potent antibacterial agent, mainly because of its medium chain triglyceride content (PDF ). Since it’s MCTs we’re after, it shouldn’t matter much if you use refined or virgin coconut oil. That said, virgin coconut oil may have some extra bioactive compounds that affect the healing effect; sure enough, one study  found that virgin coconut oil improves wound healing time partially due to “the cumulative effect of various biologically active minor components present in it” in addition to the MCTs.
There’s also the timeless classic that spans species: wound licking. Most saliva has healing properties, whether canine, murine, or hominin. A dog’s saliva is antibacterial  (against e. coli and s. canis), certain types of rat saliva promotes wound healing , human saliva contains healing-promoting histatin , and nerve growth factor, which stimulates wound healing, is produced in the saliva of most mammals. There are lots of other possible explanations for the beneficial effect of licking – the physical removal of dirt and debris from the wound, for one – but it’s pretty clear that we’re drawn to lick our wounds because it helps in some fashion.
I won’t go into an exhaustive list of all possible natural alternatives, because there are way too many. Some are bunk, some are legit. I’d even wager that most plant-based compounds have potential to help, even if an effect has yet to be shown in a clinical trial, simply because plants tend to contain bioactive compounds, oftentimes antimicrobial (to, you know, protect the plants from microbes). Antibiotic ointments and the aforementioned petroleum jelly ointments won’t win you any friends at the food co-op, but they also appear to be better than nothing.
Cleaning the wound with soap and water (or even just water), keeping it moist, and keeping it covered are probably more important to the healing process than what ointment you use.
Hope my answers helped! Thanks for reading and be sure to leave a comment with your own Dear Mark  questions.