Safe Exercise And Injury Prevention For Older Adults

Preventing Injuries and Making Exercise Safe for Baby Boomers

Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, were the forerunners of the fitness craze in the U.S. because they understood the benefits of exercise to improve health and prevent disease. Unlike their predecessors who didn’t exercise and experienced a high incidence of chronic diseases, baby boomers embrace exercise as a way to remain youthful while staying fit.

While exercise continues to be a big part of their lives as they progress through middle age, baby boomers have been experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of sports-related injuries in the last decade due to the effects of aging, overuse of soft tissue and poor conditioning. Since baby boomers make up about one-third of the population in the U.S., comprising more than 76 million adults, the rise in the number of sports-related injuries has caused a substantial impact on the healthcare bill of the nation. The rise in the number of sports injuries totaled more than one million injuries in 1998 alone, increasing 33 percent between 1991 and 1998, and costing the nation more than $18 billion a year.

Why are sports injuries so prevalent in baby boomers?

Aging is the biggest contributor to a high incidence of sports injuries in baby boomers. Physiological changes in the body due to aging include muscle loss, less elasticity in the tendons and muscles, joint stiffening, limited range of motion and increased reaction time. Aging muscles also lose their endurance, are more susceptible to injuries and take longer to heal from injuries.3 While exercise is the best remedy to reduce muscle loss, the natural aging process will cause your middle-aged members to lose some strength and endurance.

In addition to aging, stress and overuse of the body will also cause injury. Baby boomers often participate in sports activities and expect to perform at the level at which they performed in their 20s.This usually leads to injury from overuse. Also, boomers are often unaware of weak spots — old injuries, genetic predisposition or the effects of the aging process on overused soft tissue — on their bodies that make them prone to injury, according to Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Cumulative trauma in a weak spot may cause a prolonged recovery period. Yet many baby boomers are too impatient to wait for injuries to fully heal, and they resume activity, causing further damage.

While the aging process and stress from overuse may hinder active baby boomers, other boomers have a particularly high risk of injury due to poor conditioning. Some middle-aged adults are “weekend warriors,” participating in sports activity only on the weekends instead of throughout the week. These boomers are especially prone to injury because poor conditioning, in addition to the natural stiffening of soft tissue from aging, significantly increases the risk of injury.

Most common types of injuries

Sprains and strains in the back, shoulder, knee and ankle are the most prevalent sports injuries experienced by baby boomers. While low-impact activities such as swimming produce fewer injuries, high-impact activities such as basketball seem to pose the most risk. In 1998, basketball injuries accounted for more than 164, 000 injuries that required medical attention. Bicycling (including mountain biking) caused even more injuries than basketball (more than 200,000 injuries), followed by skiing, softball and general exercise and running.

While bicycling injuries make up the most injuries, the biggest increase in injuries has occurred in baby boomers who perform general exercise and running. In 1991, about 10,000 emergency room-treated injuries were reported in boomers doing general exercise and running, but by 1998 the number of injuries more than tripled.1 Even more staggering is that the estimated amount of injuries that required any kind of medical attention was more than 116,000 in general exercise and running.5 According to Dr. DiNubile, the number of sports injuries reported are just the “tip of the iceberg” because it only includes emergency room injuries and estimated medically-treated injuries.

Prevent injuries at your health club

Most injuries in baby boomers can be prevented or significantly reduced through safety, medical guidance and simple modifications in conditioning. Many middle-aged people do not take steps to properly condition themselves before exercising because they are unaware of the physiological changes their bodies have gone through during middle age. Baby boomers may benefit from specialized training sessions that inform them on these changes that occur with aging, as well as instruction on technique, safety and conditioning.

To prevent injuries in your facility, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends your middle-aged members follow these guidelines to exercise safely:

Warm-up and cool-down for at least three to five minutes, and stretch before and after exercise holding each stretch for 30 seconds.

Condition gradually to prevent overuse of muscles, tendons and joints.

Add new activities slowly. Weekly increases of activity should not exceed 10 percent in time, distance or intensity.

Take lessons from a fitness professional to develop proper form and technique, and learn to use equipment properly.

Wear proper athletic shoes and throw away old shoes that do not give proper support.
Modify activities to accommodate your body’s needs. Do not force your body to perform activities that are difficult or cause pain.

Cross train with a balanced fitness program that includes cardiovascular training, strength training and flexibility to prevent overuse of muscles from one particular sport.

If you’ve already had a sports-related injury, consult with an orthopedic surgeon to design a fitness program to reduce the risk of further injury.

Don’t be a weekend warrior by exercising only on the weekends. Try to space out activity and get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily.

In addition to these guidelines, simple changes in technique and form can reduce injuries. Many injuries are caused by improper technique, and lessons from fitness professionals may be the easiest and fastest way to reduce injury

Safety gear also plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of injury. For example, baby boomers who ride bicycles are twice as likely to die from head injuries than children, because they don’t wear helmets.1 About 69 percent of children wear helmets, while only 43 percent of baby boomers wear helmets.1 Encourage your members to wear proper safety gear and take personal training sessions from professionals to learn the proper form and technique of new exercises.

Keeping members safe

Many of your middle-aged members may be unaware of the health risks involved with participating in a fitness program or sports activity. Their aging bodies are not only susceptible to injuries from overuse and poor conditioning, but also take longer to heal. Help them ease into middle age safely, and reduce their risk of injury by providing them with information and training based on the exercise guidelines by AAOS.

By Tracey Black

Andrews University Athletic Recruiting.

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