|English: Pulldown exercise, which strengthens the arms and back Français : Formation de résistance par un vieillard, Hollywood Русский: Пневматически регулируемая тяга на тренажёре для пожилых, Голливуд (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
When adults overhaul their fitness routines, the motivation comes in many forms. Some strive for improved overall health, or to stair-step their way to Madonna's glutes, or dazzle tennis buddies with their serve.
As a result, boomers have kept the treadmills humming in recent years. But there's a downside to all that vigorous activity. Flexibility, balance and muscle mass diminish as we age, making overzealous exercisers more prone to injury.
The good news: You can train to reduce risk.
One common misconception is that walking provides a fitness cure-all, said Cara Lindell, president of Park Ridge-based Fully Fit Lifestyles. "It's better than nothing, but the treadmill just scratches the surface," she said.
To avoid injury on the courts and slopes -- even in everyday activities -- a well-rounded exercise plan is essential, Lindell said. That requires a mix of cardiovascular, flexibility and strength training each week.
Another fitness pitfall for boomers is poor posture, said Mike George. He's the founder of Chicago-based Mike George Fitness System, an exercise facility where more than half of clients are 50 or older. Many adults spend hours each day slumped in front of computers -- and that's probably increasing their injury risk. "We need to get to a point where the body is aligned properly. Otherwise, it's not safe to push harder and harder [in sports]," George said.
That's because improper alignment can overload the wrong muscles, and create unnatural movement for joints. Pilates, yoga and other flexibility training can help alleviate those problems, he said: "They help extend muscles to their natural range of motion and allow them to work to their utmost capacity."
In addition to general fitness, George's trainers tailor workouts to match clients' preferred sports. "People think, 'Oh, golf is so relaxing,' " he said. "But when you get up and swing as hard as you can, you herniate a disk."
For those clients, a workout session might include exercises that mimic a club swing, with light resistance. That helps golfers learn to generate strength from their hips, rather than twisting with excessive torque.
George raves about the benefits of tennis: "It's the only sport that combines all the types of movement necessary to keep bodies and hips really healthy: forward, backward, lateral, twisting. And it's very aerobic."
But that fancy footwork can also lead to accidents. To help strengthen the muscles needed for some of those movements, tennis clients sometimes train with resistances bands around their ankles while they walk laterally.
Andy Salk is one active boomer who embraces exercise diversity. "There's a lot to be said for mixing it up," said the 50-year-old Chicago resident, who incorporates running, swimming and biking in his routine. Variety has benefits beyond promoting general fitness. "It keeps you interested in exercising."
A lifelong tennis player, Salk has had his share of exercise misery. He began suffering from tennis elbow a couple of years ago -- a chronic problem that has him considering surgery. That condition hasn't slowed him down physically. In 2005, Salk completed a triathalon, and for the past several years, he's trained at Mike George's facility to improve his health and ward off additional injuries.
Salk golfs regularly -- about once a week -- and his weekly Pilates classes help make the greens a safer place.
"A big part of Pilates is the core," he said, "and certainly in golf, the core is important to take pressure off your back."
If adults respect their bodies' changes -- and train regularly to address the aging process -- they can enjoy a safer active lifestyle for many years to come.
Sandra A. Swanson is a local writer.