Injuries plague athletic baby boomers

From master runners to members of over-50 basketball leagues, baby boomers are proving that age is no reason to drop a favorite sport.

Clarence Shields, M.D., a past president of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, routinely treats boomers and older athletes.

"People are living longer, they are trying to be active longer, and the level of intensity they want to compete at is very high," he says. But as we age, our bodies change. Knee joints have less cartilage; bones become more brittle and connective tissues less pliable.

"Just like the tires on your car begin to wear down from driving, the same is true of the lining of your joints," Dr. Shields says. "After 50 years of wear, you just don't have the shock-absorbing capabilities in your knee, let's say, as you did when you were in your 20s."

Most injuries are avoidable, fitness experts say. But you must listen to the changes that occur in your body as you age. You must warm up carefully, start an activity more slowly and leave more recovery time afterward.

You should also make sure to:

  • Invest in the right equipment: Good shoes are particularly important. Buy shoes designed for your activity; look for running shoes if you jog, for instance. They should fit well, cupping your heel without slippage and supporting your arch.
  • Follow a proper diet: It will help you maintain a healthy weight that puts less strain on your body, and you'll get the nutrients you need. For example, adults require 1,000 to 1,500 mg of calcium a day to keep bones strong.
  • Cross-train: That helps you avoid overuse injuries and keeps your overall fitness level high.
  • Pay attention to pain: The "no pain, no gain" mantra never made sense, and it's especially bad advice as you age. Pain is "your body's alarm system," Dr. Shields says.
  • Add activities with caution: Increase the intensity and volume of activity gradually.
  • Get a checkup: If you have been sedentary or relatively inactive, get a checkup to insure that you are in good health before starting your exercise program.

You can take specific steps to avoid common sports-related injuries. Incorporating certain exercises into your fitness routine can reduce your risk for the most common sports injuries, Dr. Shields says. "The good news is that most of this stuff is preventable," he adds.

Babying boomer bodies

These are the parts of your anatomy most commonly affected in sports, the sports that threaten them, and ways you can help prevent damage.

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