By Marilynn Preston
Any body, at any age, can suffer a sports injury, but we baby boomers are famous for them. There’s actually a term for it – boomeritis – and it refers to the high number of sports-related injuries that happen to people born between 1946 and 1964 – the first generation of Americans who grew up working out, with or without the Jane Fonda leg warmers. (I still have mine.)
In 2019, we’re facing a classic good news-bad news scenario. On the upside, we have millions of boomers who share an enlightened view about the benefits of regular exercise – hiking, biking, downward dogging our way to stronger bodies and longer lives.
The sad news is we’re going about it like maniacs, and our hips, knees, thighs, shoulders, ankles and other important body parts are wearing out in record numbers.
Sports injuries and the problems they cause over time are one of the most common reasons boomers go see their doctors, and orthopedic surgeons all over America can hardly keep up with the demand for new hips, reconstructed knees and repaired rotator cuffs.
Oh, no. What to do? Learn from boomer mistakes. Most sports injuries are preventable. Here are some basic do’s and don’ts, good for all ages:
DON’T OVERDO IT
Overdoing it is the No. 1 reason people get hurt playing sports. Painful examples include shin splints, sore knees and aching shoulders. Overuse injuries happen when you push too hard for too long and try to do too much with a body – your body – that isn’t yet strong or flexible enough to take the strain.
It’s part ego, part ignorance, and there is a cure: You must learn to tune in and listen to your own body and respect whatever limitations you feel on any given day. Boomers have never liked limitations, but when it comes to preventing injuries, they’re important.
DO PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR SHOES
A surprising number of sports injuries happen as a result of poor footwear. To help protect your hips, knees, ankles and feet, be sure your shoes are giving you enough cushioning and support. If your shoes get too run down and worn-out, you need a new pair, even if it means giving up a comfy pair you love.
Some people do better with running shoes that have less structure, as these kinds of shoes require the muscles and bones and surrounding tendons and ligaments to do more of the work, making them stronger. You won’t know if a less structured shoe is a good style for you until you try it.
Also, be sure to buy the right shoe for your sport. You shouldn’t be playing tennis in your running shoes. The side-to-side motion in tennis calls for a shoe with lateral support, while running shoes are built for forward motion.
DON’T FORGET TO FIT YOUR GEAR
Spring is the perfect time to inspect your gear and make sure you’re not doing something to create an injury down the line. A tennis racket with the wrong size grip, too big or too small, can set you up for tennis elbow. A bicycle seat that’s too low can grind out your knees.
Who’s responsible for preventing these injuries? You are. Running – or, more likely, limping – to your doctor after you’ve hurt yourself is not the ideal solution; prevention is. And that means making sure your body fits your gear and your gear is cleaned, greased, well-maintained and ready to roll.
DO GET IN SHAPE
Anyone can go out and chase a ball. If you come to the field – or the basketball court, bike path, backyard badminton game – with a body that is strong, flexible, well-nourished and conscious about breathing, relaxation and other good stuff, you hugely reduce your risk of suffering a stress-and-strain injury.
DON’T SKIP THE WARMUP
Stretching individual muscles before a workout may or may not prevent injuries. But a warmup is an undisputed must. You warm up (pumping your muscles, juicing your joints, waking up your heart) by spending the first five to 15 minutes of your workout moving at a slow, deliberate pace. Focus on your breath. And remember to cool down and hydrate after your workout. For many boomers I know, that means one tall glass of water for every small glass of chardonnay.
– Marilynn Preston is the author of “Energy Express,” America’s longest-running healthy lifestyle column. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.