- Aging & Longevity
Exercise Tips: Avoid Injury and Burn More Calories
Avoiding Exercise and Sports Injuries After Age 40
Baby boomers have more exercise and sports options than ever. More and
more gyms, health clubs, and organizations such as the YMCA are adding
special programs for people over age 40 or 50, making it easier to stay fit
at any age.
Sports-related injuries among baby boomers have also increased
dramatically, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic
Surgeons (AAOS). These injuries have become so common that the
organization has a term for them -- “boomeritis.” There are many ways to
avoid putting your health at risk when you enjoy exercise or sports. Here
are ten tips on staying safe.
1. Talk with your health care provider before beginning any
If you haven’t participated in sports or an exercise program for some time, be
sure to talk with your health care provider before you start. Your doctor may
want to test your fitness to see what’s safe for you. It’s essential to talk with your
health care provider if you’ve had symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of
breath, or joint or chest pain -- even if they went away -- because they can be
signs of serious health conditions.
2. Avoid overdoing it on the weekends to make up for inactivity
during the week.
Make exercise a part of your everyday life, not just your weekend routine. “Don’t
succumb to the ‘weekend warrior’ syndrome,” the AAOS cautions. “Compressing
your physical activity into two days sets you up for trouble and doesn’t increase
your fitness level.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
recommends that you get at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical
activity on most or all days of the week. Break up your exercise into 10-minute
units if needed. Remember that moderate physical activity can include walking,
gardening, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
3. Make sure walking or running shoes fit properly.
Go to a reputable sports store for a consultation or check with your health care
provider. The wrong shoes can cause foot, knee, and other injuries. If you have
diabetes, be especially careful of any blisters or sores on your feet. If you develop
sores that do not heal from poorly fitting shoes, be sure to see your physician as
soon as possible.
4. Wear protective gear such as a helmet when you bicycle and
goggles when you play racquetball.
Put safety first. Government research shows that adult bike riders are more likely
than children to die of injuries sustained while riding. One reason is that adults
are less likely than children to wear bike helmets. About 69 percent of bike riders
under 16 wear a helmet regularly while only 38 percent of adult bike riders do,
the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says. Wear a helmet every time
you bike. Wear reflective clothing, too, and make sure your bike has a light for
cycling in the evening hours. Avoid roads that have congested traffic, and know
the rules of the road when cycling on public streets. Wearing a helmet can also
prevent or reduce the seriousness of winter sports, including skiing and
Similarly, studies have shown that racquetball players often suffer eye injuries
such as corneal abrasions when a ball strikes the eye. Many of these could be
prevented by wearing goggles.
5. Take 5 to 10 minutes to warm up and stretch before and after
It’s always important to warm up and stretch, especially as you grow older. Hold
stretches for at least 10 to 30 seconds. Stretching before and after physical
activity helps prevent injuries by increasing flexibility.
6. Have someone knowledgeable show you how to use exercise
equipment and help you get started.
Before starting a weight training program, ask a professional to show you how to
use the hand weights or weight machines. Many gyms and health clubs have
exercise physiologists on staff to help you develop a personalized program and to
teach you how to use the equipment properly. Sports stores and exercise and
recreational facilities in your area may have a list of instructors who can show you
how to use skates, free weights, and other equipment.
7. Vary your exercise routine.
If you vary your routine, you’re less likely to strain or overuse your muscles. You
might try walking three days a week, swimming on another day, and lifting
weights on the days in between. Resistance training strengthens muscles and
decreases the risk of bone and soft tissue injuries. Classes that combine stretching
and strength training, such as yoga and pilates, can offer both fitness and mind-
body benefits. Aim for a balanced program that combines a cardiovascular
activity such as walking with strength training and stretching to increase
8. Find a buddy to exercise with if you’re having trouble getting
Walking and other activities may be more fun if you do them with a friend. A
great way to combine socializing and staying fit is to meet a friend regularly at a
gym or health club, or take a class together in an activity you both enjoy, such as
9. Work up to your goals gradually.
If you want to run a five-mile race but are only used to running two miles, work
up to the five miles slowly. Many experts advise that you increase your activity
level by no more than 10 percent per week. If you want to run in a five-mile race,
increase your distance by a maximum of 10 percent per week (and build enough
training time into your schedule so that you can do this). Follow a similar
guideline if you do strength training. Increase your weights gradually and, as you
do, alternate between lighter and heavier weights. If you maintain the same
weight levels over long periods, the benefits decrease.
10. If you have knee, shoulder, or muscle aches and pains, give your
body time to recover before exercising again.
You might try a different activity that uses different muscles. Or talk with a
trainer about exercises that will put less stress on your joints. If your pain persists,
consult your doctor. You might benefit from seeing an orthopedist or a physical
therapist. Weight training and aerobic exercise can be done in a pool with
specialized equipment that provides exercise but limits the stress on joints. Look
for books on water exercise at your library or bookstore. Ask an exercise
physiologist at your local YMCA, gym, or health club to help you plan a routine.
Talking with a professional about your exercise plan can help you avoid injuries.
It’s also important to remember that sports and exercise injuries can result from
using alcohol or drugs before taking part in some activities. Alcohol is a
depressant that can slow your reaction time and impair your judgment. And some
prescription medications may cause drowsiness or other side effects that can be
dangerous if you’re skiing, bicycling, or enjoying another sport that requires you
to act quickly to avoid injury. If you take medications, talk with your doctor
about which sports you can safely enjoy while taking those medications.
You can learn more about enjoying exercise and about sports safety at the AAOS
Web site at www.orthoinfo.org. The program that provided this publication can
give you additional information on avoiding injuries when you’re over age 40.
Experts agree that staying fit as you age is good for your physical health and well-
being. But it’s important in midlife to take precautions and to listen to your body
so that you don’t overdo it.