Published December 31, 2007
In a society where looking young and fit is a way of life — it's no surprise that more and more “baby boomers” are lacing up their sneakers and heading to the gym. But boomer workouts have gone way beyond basic aerobics and running on the treadmill.
Nowadays it's all about endurance sports and yoga mats.
But are some people pushing themselves too far?
"I've had a couple of patients try to contort themselves," said Dr. Sean McCance, co-director of spinal surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "A trainer pushed too hard and ruptured a disc in their back."
Back injuries are a common theme among baby boomers, who make up an estimated 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964.
"A lot of people in their 50's and 60's have arthritic changes in their back and neck," said McCance. "This includes disc degeneration and spinal arthritis or disc herniations. If you stress those body parts they say ouch."
Often times, these injuries are a result of someone trying to do too much, noted McCance.
"People have stressful jobs and they try to make up for a sedentary lifestyle in one afternoon," he said. "They often try to jam too much into one session."
Mirabai Holland, director of fitness and wellness program at the 92nd street Y in Manhattan, knows this trend all too well. She's been in the fitness industry for more than 25 years and has recently developed an exercise program to help people ease into getting in shape.
"I see this all the time... people who are boomers want to know why exercise is so important," said Holland. "Basically fitness equals longevity. Studies have shown that exercise will reduce your chances of dying prematurely from cancer, heart disease and many other health problems."
Holland isn't the only one who believes this. Several studies have shown that exercise helps promote a healthier and longer life, including a recent study published in the Dec. 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The University of South Carolina study found that people over age 60 with better cardio-respiratory fitness appear to live longer than unfit adults regardless of their levels of body fat.
The researchers recommended a daily brisk walk for fitness — just one of the activities Holland said is essential.
Here's a List of Holland’s Top 5 Boomer Workouts:
"Basically anything that uses your full body to get your heart pumping." said Holland.
— At least 30 minutes of moderate cardio exercise a day
— This includes brisk walking, running, swimming, biking, or exercise videos
— If you don't have time in your day for the full 30 minutes, try three 10 minute bouts of exercise throughout the day
2. Strength training
"As we get older the muscles are getting smaller and losing the ability to contract," said Holland. "We can change this by strength training. The other thing we see is that mature adults have higher fat content. There is more diabetes due to lower muscle mass, so strength training is essential to regulate glucose metabolism."
Work those muscles twice a week for 30 to 45 minutes by doing exercises such as:
— Pushups (if you're a beginner, do them against a wall to start)
— Using a resistance band which is light weight and inexpensive
— Bicep curls and tricep extensions
— Modified squats and lunges which works many muscles at once
And make sure you leave 24 to 48 hours between strength training because your muscles need time to bounce back and rest. You don't want overuse injuries.
3. Flexibility training
"With reduced flexibility people tend to lose their ability to balance because there are changes in connective tissues in the body," said Holland. "Regular stretching can help, even as little as five to 10 minutes a day."
— To start the day, try some head circles and stretching in the shower
— At the end of day, stretch calf muscles and hamstrings
4. Balance training
"Because we see in older adults a loss of balance, which results in more falls," noted Holland.
— You can do this standing in line at the grocery store
— Stand on one leg and see if you can let go of the shopping cart
— Hold for about 10 seconds
— Also try standing on your tippy-toes and holding for a few seconds
— Balance should be done everyday — all you need is two to three minutes
5. Core training
"We see so many people as they get older avoiding their abs, which results in a bad back," said Holland. "They're not really supporting upper torso."
— Try a few minutes of abdominal exercises
— Reverse curl while you're lying in back and pull your knees into you
— Hold for five seconds and release
— Start with 10 reps a day and work your way higher
— Crunches are key — not full sit-ups — because some people can do more damage than good
— Keep back on the floor and don't go all the way up
— Really concentrate so you can feel you're abdominal wall contracting
— This will help support your back
For baby boomers, supporting the back and the rest of the body is crucial, especially if they want to avoid "boomeritis," a condition that affects older athletes that have pushed their limits. When this happens, it usually results in a trip to the doctor's office.
"If pain starts translating into severe pain or pain that travels down the leg with numbness or weakness or down the arm," said McCance. "Then it's definitely time to see a doctor."
McCance's advice to aging athletes is simple:
-- Warm up before you workout to get the blood flowing
-- Make sure your body (an muscle tone) is in shape for the exercise you're doing
-- Cross-train — it's a great way to keep in shape
-- Get on a swimming program — it's low-impact and gets the blood flowing to back and muscles
-- Finally, remember pain is a warning sign — don't try to power through it
"If someone is prone to back and neck problems and they get reoccurring neck or back pain," McCance said. "Check with a spine doctor before embarking on a new workout program."