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Legally Speaking


Issue: June, 2005
Author: Dr. John Barrasso

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Warming Up is an Important Rite of Spring Sports

For members of the baby boomer generation, springtime in the Rockies can be the best of times and the worst of times. And I'm not just talking about the beautiful, summer-like spring days interspersed with the snowstorms. The good side is that most of us are getting outside again. We're shaking off the inactivity of a long winter with furious forays onto playing fields, bikeways and golf courses. We're breaking out the toys of summer and resuming all sorts of energetic sports. The bad news is that often we overdo, and sometimes we end up in the doctor's office or the ER, suffering from overuse injuries from overindulging in the rites of spring.

This seems to be particularly true of baby boomers. We often think we're immune to the human aging process. We boomers invented recreational sports as a lifestyle, and every spring finds many of us getting outside to jog or bike or golf or play ball with a passion. Unfortunately, some of us try to do too much, too soon, and we end up getting hurt. Baby boomers suffer more than a million sports injuries a year. Most are to knees, ankles, shoulders and elbows - and many are preventable.

Regular exercise is important for all of us. But sometimes too much exercise can be a bad thing. I call it “EXCESS-ercize,” or doing too much, too quickly. I especially see it in my generation, the baby boomer generation. We boomers have been active most of our lives, but we should recognize two important facts. First, we aren't as young as we used to be, and second, we need more time to warm up. Being a baby boomer is a little like driving a 40-year-old car. The tires and shock absorbers are a little worn, the brakes are a little slower, and we just can't go as fast as we used to.

Our bodies and physiology change as we age. We get heavier, our muscles and tendons get shorter and less pliable, our bones begin to lose density and become more brittle, and our knee joints have less cartilage. The wear and tear on our bodies over the years means that we can't do all the things we used to do. We can slow some of the aging process by proper diet, conditioning and recovery time, but we can't reverse it or stop it completely, and we need to accept that.

So the second important point to remember is to start slowly. We need to make sure we do our stretching and conditioning exercises BEFORE we hit the road or the ball field or the golf course. That's true for participants in any sport at any age, but it's more important than ever for those of us in our 40s, 50s and 60s. Take time to warm up and stretch those muscles, then start that sports activity slowly, don't overdo, and give yourself plenty of time for recovery. Forget that old adage "no pain, no gain," and instead listen to your body. If you feel pain, stop and treat it. And finally, see your doctor before embarking on any new exercise program.

John Barrasso M.D. is an orthopaedic surgeon active in community affairs. He serves in the Wyoming State Senate representing Natrona County. He is medical director of the Wyoming Health Fairs and reports on medical problems for Wyoming's K-2 television.

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