The term "baby boomer," has been applied to a large subset of our population consisting of over 76 million Americans born between 1946-1964. As most are aware, the term refers to a period of time that displayed a marked increase in the number of births. With such an unprecedented and large number of individuals being born during a short time span, it is no surprise that this generation of individuals comprises over 40% of the nation's population. This is likely why it may seem like a day doesn't go by in which a new study is published to discuss a particular aspect pertaining to this subset of our population. As this population ages and has reached "mid-life" or beyond, we have seen an increasing usage and need for health care due to the seemingly inevitable pathologies of time. It is for this reason that orthopedic surgeon and a spokesperson of the American Academy of of Orthopedic Surgery (AAOS), Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, has coined a new word, "boomeritis," to refer to the large number of musculoskeletal and sports injuries that are being treated among baby boomers. Although, Dr. DiNubile originally coined the word to poke a bit of fun at his own generation, the descriptive truth that it embodied quickly lead to it's widespread use in clinical practice as well as various media resources as a means to articulate the types of wear and tear injuries that occur in the aging athlete.
Currently in the United States, musculoskeletal injuries comprise the number one reason individual's seek medical treatment. This is mostly due to the fact that the baby boomer generation was the first to grow up with regular exercise, which has persisted as the "weekend warrior" mentality. They are comprised of a population that greatly surpasses their parent's generation in terms of physical activity and continues to be quite active in terms of the types of physical activities performed as well as the frequency in which they perform these activities. Furthermore, the baby boomer population has developed a reputation for attempting to defy age. They are a population that, as a whole, wants to continue to compete and participate in athletics in their 40's, 50's and 60's in the same manner in which they were able to perform such activities in their 20's. In general they do not want to listen to those aches and pains that may arise after a long weekend tennis tournament or a Sunday soccer match-up, and who can blame them?
Unfortunately, this "weekend warrior" mentality among an aging population has lead to a population that requires a great deal of sports medicine treatment and even orthopedic surgical intervention. This is illustrated in the fact that there were less than 276,000 hospital ER-treated injuries in individuals 35 to 54 in 1991, but by 1998 this number had risen to more than 365,000 individuals and 18.7 billion dollars worth of care*. Activities that top the list for producing the most injuries among baby boomers include: bicycle riding (66,000 treated/year), Basketball (48,230 treated/year), unspecified forms of exercise and running (32,370 treated/year), and skiing (28,150 treated/year)*.
This data is likely a little inaccurate because it doesn't take into account more chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, tendinitis, and other more long-term injuries that occur from years of wear and tear, but it nonetheless, gives us a bit of insight into the types of activities in which we must be aware of in order to reduce the number of injuries that we see per year. Relative to the aforementioned chronic issues, some have even projected that the number of knee replacements will increase by 675% by the year 2030. Yet despite these statistics and projections, this doesn't mean that the baby boomer population should stop being physically active. Most would agree that they should continue to be as active as possible for the beneficial cardiovascular and longevity effects that exercise and healthy eating have to offer with the reminder that the aging body is not as resilient as it once was and therefore certain tips should be followed in order to help reduce the number of exercise-related injuries.
1. Gradually Increase Your Workouts and Intensity
You're not 20 anymore, and even if you were, a common mistake many athletes and coaches make is to too quickly increase the frequency of workouts or intensity, which doesn't allow for adequate repair and compensation. The typical rule of thumb is to increase your workouts by no more than 10% each week (ex. if you're running 25 mins at a time, don't jump to 45 mins after a week, but rather increase it to 27-28 mins. The same goes for weight training as well.)
As we age, our muscles become less elastic and are more vulnerable to injury because of tightness. By stretching often as well as before and after workouts, one can help prevent injury as well as increasing the range of motion in the joints stretched. This may even help prevent lower back pain in some individuals with tight hamstrings.
3. Safety Equipment
Always wear the appropriate safety gear for whichever sport you're participating in. This means, if you're going to be using your rollerblades or riding a bike, make sure you're always wearing your helmet. With rollerblading wrist guards are a must because aging bones are less dense and more brittle. Falling on an outstretched hand, may more easily result in a fracture and a much greater health setback and cost than simply investing in some safety equipment.
4. Drink Water
A common problem in older individual's, especially during the warmer months, is that they do not consumer enough water when they exercise and not only experience dehydration, but accelerate heat exhaustion. This is especially true for our oldest weekend warriors (>60 years of age) because as the body ages the regulation of heat becomes a little more difficult. Staying hydrated not only will help you perform better, but may help keep you healthier and injury free.
5. Don't Be Afraid to Try New Things
In competitive athletics, we call this cross-training. You don't want to run 6 days per week, 52 weeks per year because you'll be setting yourself up for chronic overuse injuries. It's best to make sure that you throw a little spice into your life and try different exercise modalities. Maybe play an organized sport on the weekends, jog on a couple of weekdays, and try weight lifting, a cycling class or even go for an evening walk on some days. Just make sure you're including some cardiovascular work as well as resistance training work because both are important in maintaining a healthy body. Oftentimes, resistance training is forgotten because people either don't know how and are embarrassed to ask someone at the gym, or have misconceptions about it. The reality of the matter is that resistance training helps maintain healthy bones and strong bodies, so make sure to include it in your routine!
6. Warm-up and Cool-down
Like the aforementioned stretching, your body isn't the same as it used to be when you were younger so a warm-up and cool-down are particularly important in order to bring your core temperature up and loosen up your muscles. Furthermore, the cool down can help you to make an easier recovery from your workout.
7. Be Consistent
Don't be the weekend warrior that was mentioned before. Cramming all of your exercise into just two days puts a lot of stress on your body and doesn't allow for adequate gains and recovery. Trying to get 30-60 minutes of physical activity on most days is much better for your body and will result in better physical gains than the weekend crunch. Try to make a somewhat regular schedule and stick to it.
8. Listen to Your Body
The old saying, "No pain, No gain" is not true. Know your body well because pain doesn't equate to gain. Some people judge a workout based on if they feel pain the next day, and this is not an effective measurement of gain. Make sure you ice those aches, take adequate rest when needed, and as always, consult your doctor before starting any new workout plan.
So as you can see, "boomeritis," to an extent, is an expected and inevitable phenomenon because of the sheer number of individual's who are active and aging, but it doesn't mean that precautions cannot be taken to help reduce one's risk of injury and chronic problems. Keep being active, keep staying young, but it's important to remember your body has limitations. Staying well balanced and following these simple tips will help you to stay active well into your golden years and beyond.
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Consumer Product Safety Commission of the United States of America. "Baby Boomer Sports Injuries." April 2000. Source: www.cpsc.gov