The 40+ Fitness Guide
More and more baby-boomer women are returning to sports they once loved or trying sports they never attempted. "Overall participation in 10 sports among women ages 35 to 64 has increased significantly in the last five years," says Larry Weindruch, a spokesman for the National Sporting Goods Association. Some sports, including kayaking (up an estimated 144 percent) and jogging (up 24 percent), have seen dramatic surges. Twenty-seven million American women ages 35 to 64 walk regularly for exercise -- 11 million swim, 6 million hike, 6 million bicycle, 4 million jog, 3 million play golf, close to 2 million play tennis, and 1.5 million enjoy kayaking or rafting. Team sports are attracting boomers, too. More than 1 million women over 35 belong to softball teams; about half a million play soccer.
Not surprisingly, sports-related injuries among boomers also increased, by about 33 percent through the 1990s, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. However, recent data suggest that some of these injury numbers are beginning to fall -- perhaps boomers are figuring out how to play sports without getting hurt. Avoiding injury it isn't easy. After 40, your muscles and connective tissues lose elasticity, your sense of balance declines, your reflexes and reaction time slow and you tire more easily, all changes that can make you more injury-prone.
"Boomeritis" is the term used to describe this increased vulnerability, says Nicholas DiNubile, MD, author of FrameWork: Your 7-Step Program for Healthy Muscles, Bones and Joints, who coined the phrase. "The losses may begin after age 35 or so, but they are slow and incremental. Often you don't realize they've been happening until you do something for the first time in years and you realize it's not as easy as it used to be," Dr. DiNubile says. "Women don't just lose bone in their 40s and 50s; at that age they also lose muscle at a rate of 1 percent per year or 10 percent per decade. So you might not be able to hit a tennis ball as hard or ride a bicycle as far as you used to." The good news: The more you exercise, the more you can slow down these declines -- even reverse them.
Avoiding injury takes planning. "In your 20s you might have thought nothing of lacing up your running shoes and jogging for an hour without any preparation. Do that in your 40s and you'll probably feel it for days afterward if you don't actually injure yourself," says Ed Wojtys, MD, director of sports medicine at the University of Michigan.
See our guide to eight sports. Each section includes a "key move" from trainer and Aionfitness.com owner Jonathan Ross, an exercise especially good for that sport. For overall fitness, combine all the key moves.