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Boomeritis - Are Baby Boomers Cruising for a Bruising?

As America's baby boomers reach their golden years, they are reluctant to give up their active lifestyles, but are they doing themselves more harm than good?

According to the CPSC, sports-related injuries among 35 to 54 year-olds-increased 33% from 1991 to 1998 (the last full-year of statistics). In 1998 alone, one million boomers suffered sports related injuries, and 365,000 required emergency treatment. Cycling and basketball accounted for most of these trips to the emergency room.

Dr. Nicholas DiNubile is an orthopedic surgeon and consultant to the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and to the Pennsylvania Ballet. He's an expert spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. During the Bush Administration, he was a special advisor and medical consultant to The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. He also coined the now-familiar term "Boomeritis" after treating a boomer with a sports-related injury.

Safety isn't just for kids

DiNubile says baby boomers who ride bicycles die from head injuries at nearly twice the rate of kids on bikes. At least, in part, because just 43% of the grey tops wear helmets compared to 69% of kids. And that says a lot about the way boomers are aging. Like Peter Pan, they simply won't grow up. And while their insistence on exercising is laudable, their refusal to act their age in the types, duration and intensity of their exercise may be doing them more harm than good.

Since boomers make up a third of the U.S. population, this surge in injuries has a considerable impact on health care with injury costs totaling more than $18.7 billion in 1998. Among those major expenses is a lot of emergency-room treatment.

DiNubile says by ignoring signs of trouble such as pain and decreasing range of motion, they are compounding the problem. Often boomers' exercise programs are out of balance, and they may need to add more gentle sports like swimming or yoga, even martial arts to their running and weight-lifting programs.

Prevention and early treatment is key

Although their big fear is that someone's going to make them stop exercising, everyone knows that the biggest danger is being sedentary. Surgery isn't always required to undo the damage. Sometimes it's stretching; sometimes it's physical therapy.

This presidential administration is a perfect example of boomers' exercise ills: Clinton's Achilles injury, Gore's ruptured quad.

Despite their advanced age, they haven't outgrown the need for common safety precautions. Even if you're 55 and have never exercised before, it's never too late to start, but start smart.

Some common injuries include:

Tendonitis--tendo inflammation that causes problems such as tennis elbow and rotator cuff injuries.

Arthritis--age-related wear on joints that causes pain in knee, hip, lower back.

To avoid these problems, experts recommend warming up before working out, which includes stretching. Also, do more than one type of workout to vary the routine. Most importantly, listen to your body and if you're in pain, do something. If muscles are knotting up, pay attention.

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