Welcome to the Baby Boom. A generation of 76 million Americans, all determined never to grow old. Except the oldest of us are reaching retirement age, and the youngest are staring down the big 5-0. One thing these 76 million folks have in common is a determination to stay active and maintain a youthful attitude at any age. But in their determination to stay active, many Boomers are making some dramatic exercise mistakes.
- Working Out at the Wrong Intensity. Let's face it, in our heads, we're forever 20 years old. But if you're trying to work out at the same intensity you did in your 20s, you're going to do more harm than good. If you're experiencing pain, excessive fatigue, breathlessness or dizziness, you're working out too hard. The best way to develop good fitness for a lifetime is to develop a habit of consistency, and let the intensity develop naturally, as your body is ready for it. On the flip side, if you keep working out at the same intensity for years, your body will adapt, and you'll stop gaining the benefits of progressive exercise.
- Ignoring Your Weakest Link. For many Boomers, the weakest link is a joint that you injured years ago, or aging tendons that are not quite as supple as the muscles they link to. It's tempting to lift as much weight as your muscles can handle, but if it's too much for the joint or the tendons, you're asking for trouble. Design your workouts around your weakest link, and only progress when it's ready for more.
- Failing to Figure Out the Logistics. Ambitious goals are great, but all too often we make them without considering the gritty details of how to achieve them. It seems so easy to work out for an hour a day, until you factor in the drive to the gym, the extra loads of laundry, your work travel schedule, and your family obligations. Time spent figuring out the logistics of your workouts will keep you on track when reality strikes.
- Diving into a Workout Without Correcting Postural Imbalances First. By the time we reach our 40s and 50s, most of us have developed muscle imbalances and postural deviations like a forward head posture or an anterior pelvic tilt. They may be caused by old injuries or just poor postural habits, but most of these imbalances can be corrected with the right exercises. Beginning a workout program without correcting these imbalances, though, will leave you with ineffective workouts and potentially more injuries.
- Skipping the Flexibility and Balance Training. Aerobic exercise and resistance exercise are absolute musts for maintaining vitality at any age. But flexibility and balance training are equally important if quality of life is one of your fitness goals. Like aerobic capacity and strength, balance and flexibility are "use it or lose it" propositions. Maintaining full range of motion and confident balance as you age will yield a big payoff in your ability to do the things you love.
- Not Bothering with Correct Technique. Whatever you do, don't just go to the big corporate gym and mimic what other people are doing. Chances are more than half of them are using ineffective or even dangerous technique. Either schedule a couple of sessions with a personal trainer or at least research correct technique online before you just start working out. (A good resource is the American Council on Exercise's exercise database.)
- Waiting Until Tomorrow to Start. Every day you put off exercise is another day that the decaying process gets a head start. Don't worry if you can't do much when you first get started. Just put one foot in front of the other, and stop while it still feels good. Exercise works just like investing: start today, be consistent, and watch the benefits compound with time.
Getting older doesn't have to mean retiring to your rocking chair. In fact, the more active you are, the longer you'll be able do the things you love. Avoid these common mistakes, and you can join the ranks of the zoomers--active boomers living large.
(Image credit: Elvert Barnes)