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Cross training a key for Baby Boomers

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recently presented an Honorary Certified Personal Training Certification to Jack LaLanne at his 95th birthday celebration.

It’s poignant that the “godfather of fitness” be so fittingly honored as NASM is an organization founded on many of the same exercise principles that LaLanne promoted for so long. LaLanne continues to spend 90 minutes in the weight room and 30 minutes swimming every morning.

But we don’t have to look far to find the LaLannes in our midst. Just at the recreation center, there are a dozen or more members in their late 80s to early 90s who practice aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise that all Americans should be undertaking to lead a healthy lifestyle. Americans over the age of 65 — particularly those who are currently active — are a special focus for those facing chronic diseases that are a major driver of healthcare costs. When you hear discussions about a healthcare crisis, prevention becomes a familiar refrain.

Baby Boomers, the largest, richest and fastest-growing segment of the population, are beginning to accumulate in middle age. As a matter of fact, this group’s numbers will increase by 25 percent over the next eight years, unlike the 18-49 year-olds, who will experience virtually no growth in numbers over the same period. With a greater number of older consumers, the demand for products and services designed for, and marketed specifically to them will certainly grow. In 2009 alone, it has been estimated that this group spent over $72 billion on products and services to help slow the aging process.

While I’m not specifically recommending that everyone over the age of 65 go out and join a gym, I do believe strongly in strength training and safety. Both are areas where the trained and certified instructors at fitness facilities can utilize their expertise to help. Also, given this group’s increased risk of falls, I place an emphasis on balance training. The aerobic component of a well-rounded fitness program is the easiest and most enjoyable part. Go out and walk, and when the weather permits, hop on your bicycle.

In certain ways, I gain my inspiration from the seniors I see at the recreation center and also those I play with. Nancy, who is five years older than I, epitomizes the quintessential Baby Boomer: she’s determined, driven and accomplished. Additionally, she does what some Baby Boomers don’t — she listens to the messages that her aging body sends her and modifies her workout accordingly to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

My own problem (and that of other Baby Boomers) is that I don’t want to hear that I cannot do the same activities I did when I was 30 or 40. But, I am getting better. As we get older, we have more weak links, more vulnerabilities, and our frames begin failing us. “Boomeritis” is our illness — musculoskeletal wear-and-tear issues. In our age group, overuse and repetitive strain injuries to the knees, lower back, shoulder/rotator cuff, and tendons are becoming increasingly and alarmingly common.

At the first sign (okay, maybe not the first) of a nagging pain, I dial back how much and how intensely I’m pushing myself. I try to find my limitations and accommodate them with the proper exercise.

People are under the misconception that they are supposed to be deteriorating as they age. So, if they get injured, they just stop exercising. Do not stop. Instead, focus on what you are able to do — walk if you cannot run, work your lower body with cardio on a recumbent bike, strength train your legs and do core work if it’s your upper body that’s injured.

For Baby Boomers, in general, cross-training is key. We simply cannot do everything we’ve always done at the same intensity level. At age 57 I keep a slower pace, but I’ve improved in other areas: flexibility and balance. With five Pilates classes weekly, my core is the strongest it has ever been. I encourage you to explore the various fitness formats available so that you can feel good and age gracefully. Each time you work out, you should have a purpose, whether it is stress relief, endurance, strength-building or form improvement. And there should be days of rest to allow the muscles to rebuild and to help prevent injury.

Even as we alter what we’re doing as we age, we also need to shift our mindset. Remain open to new and exciting things. Keep going strong. Keep truckin’.

Shamrock Shuffle

The Pagosa Area Running Club is a group of runners living in Pagosa Springs who love great friendships, great racing and great mountain living. They aim to meet the running needs of runners from the beginner to the highly competitive athlete.

One of their goals is to make running a fun and enjoyable pursuit. Towards that end, they are organizing their first race: “The Shamrock Shuffle.” Some say seniors don’t run — they just shuffle. Well, this might just be the thing for you. This race, scheduled for Saturday, March 13, includes a 5 k and 1 mile fun run and costume contest. Proceeds from this race will benefit GECKO and Country Kids With Cancer. For additional details and a downloadable registration form, visit their Web site at www.pagosarunner.org.