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Warm Weather has Baby Boomers Up and Running— But too much exercise, too soon may have painful consequences

(New York, N.Y. May 1, 2003.) Now that the warm weather is here, many people are ready to grab their running shoes, tennis racket or baseball equipment and get some exercise. But anybody who's been inactive during the winter months should exercise caution, according to Geoffrey Westrich, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon with an office at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan and in Fresh Meadows, Queens.

Dr. Westrich says baby boomers are at particular risk of injury if they don't take a few simple steps before resuming a sport or embarking on an exercise program. Injuries among baby boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964 and account for 30 percent of the U.S. population, soared in the 1990's. An estimated one million baby boomers suffered sports-related injuries requiring medical attention in 1998, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. That was a 33 percent increase in injuries compared to 1991, primarily due to increased participation in activities such as running, exercising, bicycling, basketball, in-line skating and soccer.

"You cannot overestimate the benefits of a regular, safe exercise program for people of any age," Dr. Westrich said. "Exercise is good for the heart and lungs, it helps keep bones and muscles strong, plus, it can provide a psychological lift. Strengthening muscles can also protect a previously injured joint from further injury. And regular exercise can improve balance and mobility and even reduce the pain of arthritis."

But anyone who jumps into a sport or exercise program too quickly can suffer painful consequences, says Dr. Westrich, a baby boomer himself who plays tennis and goes running to keep in shape.

"As we get older, our bodies change, and we are more prone to injury. Generally, people are not as flexible as they were in their 20's, response time is slower and they tire more quickly." Weekend warriors, or those who try to cram all their exercise into one or two days a week, have a high rate of injury. Many baby boomers have had a previous injury, which leaves them more susceptible to getting hurt again. Even less strenuous activities such as golf can cause injury if people aren't properly warmed up.

Dr. Westrich recommends a balanced fitness program that includes cardiovascular, or aerobic exercise, such as bicycling or running; strength training; and flexibility.

He has the following tips for injury prevention:

  • Always warm up and stretch before any physical activity. Warm up with stationary cycling or light jogging or walking for about 10 minutes. Then slowly and gently stretch, holding each stretch for about 15 seconds.
  • Try to engage in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. If you're pressed for time, you can break it up into10- or 15-minute segments.
  • Listen to your body and know your limits. Stop if you're in pain or very tired.
  • Take adequate time to rest in between exercising or athletic activities. When strength training with weights, rest for at least one day in between workouts.
  • Use the proper protective gear, such as helmets and knee pads, and wear the right shoes for a particular activity.
  • For certain sports, take lessons and invest in good equipment. Proper form reduces the chance of developing an overuse injury such as tendinitis or stress fractures.
  • When changing your activity level, increase it in increments of no more than 10 percent each week. For example, if you normally walk two miles a day and want to get to four, slowly increase your distance each week until you reach your higher goal. In strength training, increase your weights gradually.
  • Drink a lot of fluids, especially if exercising in hot weather. Try to eat a balanced diet.
  • If you have had a previous sports injury, consult an orthopedic surgeon who can help you develop an exercise plan to accomplish your goals and minimize the chance of injury.

"The key to injury prevention is a little bit of planning. Exercising good judgement now will ensure that people get the most out of their fitness program and see results later on," Dr. Westrich said.

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