The 7 Biggest Mistakes Baby Boomers Make with their Physical Health
Baby Boomers Physical Health Mistakes
The race against the clock is one that Baby Boomers* are desperate to claim victory over. Being youthful is a high priority, as is the maintenance of physical health. The ability to take part in recreational pursuits unencumbered by pain or injury is a very high priority for Boomers.
The Baby Boomer Australian demographics
There are approximately 5 million baby boomers currently in Australia. The ageing of the baby boomer generation over the coming several decades will radically change the demographics of Australia. In 1997 12% of Australia’s population was aged 65 years plus. By 2035 greater than 20% of Australia’s population will be 65 years and over.
Australia’s population has aged steadily this century. During the 25 years after World War II the median age declined, reaching a low of 27.5 years in 1971, as the first of the baby boomers began to have children of their own. Since then Australia’s median age has risen to 34.3 years in 1997, and is projected to reach between 42 and 43 years in 2031 (as the youngest baby boomers turn 65).
With the ageing of the population and the Boomers keen desire to prolong their physical function there is an increasing demand for good quality health care services. Certainly at POGO a large part of our clientele are Boomers seeking guidance and our expertise on how to get the most out of their physical body. Our 3P Philosophy of care: Pain-free, Perform, and Prolong assists Boomers with the outcomes they seek. The 3P Philosophy ensures Boomers that they not only get out of pain, but also progress to optimal performance, and prolonging this performance and physical health through life.
Common Mistakes Baby Boomers Make-my Observations
I thought it would be useful to share with you the top 7 mistakes that I see Baby Boomers making with regards to their physical health. Once you are aware of these 7 commonly made mistakes you can take proactive steps to avoid these very mistakes becoming major oversights with the passage of time.
The 7 most common mistakes Baby Boomer’s make are:
Stacking on unwanted & excess kilograms. I regularly share with Boomers the concept of ‘frame weight’. The frame weight concept infers that every body’s body has an ideal weight that it is designed to physically function at. Boomers are acutely aware of the impact of excess weight as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. However many Boomers often fail to link the impact of their excess weight with the effect it has on their musculoskeletal system. The reality is that if you are even 5kgs over your body’s ideal frame weight, than that extra 5kgs will exert greater forces and loads on structures such as your lower back, knees, Achilles tendons, and hips. These extra forces will greatly increase the chances of experiencing pain and more rapid ‘wear and tear’ of these structures. If you don’t believe me try sticking a 5kg dumbell in your pocket and see how your body labours under the extra load!
Not prioritising exercise. Many a Boomer is often heard stating that they just don’t seem to have the time to exercise as often as they would like. We all have the same amount of hours a day, yet some people seem to always find time for their health. What is the difference? Simple. The difference is a difference in priorities. Consider that by dropping viewing of the news each evening you will discover an additional 3-4hrs per week. This could be used for exercise time. I often encourage clients that when it comes to exercise consistency beats frequency. This maxim means that it’s better to exercise with consistency over a 12 month period in a sustained manner (even if this looks like just 1-2 times per week initially) than exercising daily for say two weeks, before stopping. You may find a previously written blog of interest Revised National Activity Guidelines. In the guidelines one of the key recommendations is to start small-do some exercise even if just a little to begin with.
Developing a stiff thoracic spine. The thoracic spine is the middle part of the spine. The 12 thoracic vertebrae each have ribs that span off the vertebrae. This part of the spine is naturally meant to be stiff, however Boomers are one demographic that tend to be excessively (or as I phrase it ‘pathologically’) stiff in the thoracic spine. Years of being subject to gravity and forward bent over positions at computers or workstations produce pathological stiffness in this part of Baby Boomer’s spines. The result of this stiffness is heightened forces going through the neck, shoulders, and lower back. The increase in loading through these areas predisposes the Boomer to developing pain or an injury in these body regions. For example the neck is said to succumb to four times the load for every 1cm that the head pokes forwards further than it should as a result of a stiff thoracic spine and the resulting rounded shoulders posture. Click through to YOUTUBE for a great thoracic spine corrective stretch one that I encourage Boomers to do daily. The rollers used in this video can be purchased at POGO. (Note that the roller must be a half foam roller and not a full foam roller).
Developing tight hip flexors and quads. Prolonged sitting will tighten the hip flexors and quadriceps muscles. The effect of these muscles becoming tight is a forwards tipping (anterior tilt) of the pelvis. When the pelvis tilts anteriorly (or down towards the ground from the top of the pelvis/hips) the result is an increase in loading of the lower back. I rarely see someone in the treatment room suffering from lower back pain who does not have tight hip flexors and quads. Tightness in the quads will also increase the loading on the knee joints. The good news is that by consistently stretching the quadriceps much of the adverse tension can be reduced. Boomers can stretch their hip flexors and quads by performing the following stretch.
Not using the gluts (bottom muscles) enough. The gluts are an often under used muscle group. Unfortunately the effect of not using the gluts can be an increased likelihood of developing lower back pain, hip pain, and a variety of lower limb conditions. Because so much of our day in modern society is spent sitting we are in essence ‘squashing’ the gluts and rendering them inactive! For Boomers who may be in surplus of their ideal frame weight it is very likely that a flow on effect of the extra frame weight is a reduced function and activation of their gluts. The good news is that the disuse of the gluts can be turned around with exercise. Providing the exercise is targeted and specific in nature changes to glut activity levels can occur inside two weeks. My favourite glut activation and strength exercise is the single leg sit to stand. Start with 1-2 sets of 6-8 repetitions and as strength develops work up to 3×12 reps on each leg. The sit to stands are shown in this video clip. In this video you will find 3 other great hip strengthening exercises often given to runners, but which are equally approp
riate for the Boomer with weak gluts.
Failing to perform strengthening exercises. For the better part of a decade Boomers have been made aware of the importance of undertaking regular aerobic exercise. Most Boomers would identify with the need to complete 3-5 sessions of 30mins of aerobic based exercise each week. Examples of aerobic exercise include: walking, jogging, bike riding, or swimming. Even walking the holes of a golf course would constitute an aerobic exercise session, as would a brisk walk with friends, or a cycle to the beach and back. However many Boomers ignore (or are simply not aware) of the importance of completing at least one gym, or strength based training session each week. I term this type of exercise ‘resistance’ training, it involves pushing resistance in the form of weights. Resistance training is critical as it maintains Boomers muscle mass. You see as a human being passes through their life the muscle fibres atrophy (or get smaller in diameter). Left to our bodies own devices this muscle ‘shrinkage’ can be quite marked. In fact medicine has even given this reduction in muscle mass a name-sarcopenia. What is the problem of having reduced muscle mass for a Boomer? The problem is that a reduction in ‘normal lean muscle mass’ on a Boomer’s frame (see Mistake 1) will increase the likelihood of developing lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. With a reduction in lean muscle mass our frame weight is more greatly composed of fatty infiltrates into our once active muscles and also visceral (or around our vital organs) fatty deposits and build ups. The other chief problem with reduced muscle mass on a Boomer’s frame is that the body’s key joints (knees, hips, ankles, lower back) receive less support and therefore these key joints are subjected to greater loading and adverse forces. These greater loads can then accelerate joint ‘wear and tear’ and may in fact accelerate the development of osteoarthritis of these joints. Please note that there is also a point where just like not enough muscle mass is problematic so too is too much muscle mass. By example many weight lifters and body builders have trouble with their joints as they are under too much load –which is a direct result of the excessive forces being generated by the excessive muscle mass around these joints.
Not getting regular manual therapy for body maintenance (e.g. physio, massage). I am often amazed that so many Boomers do not get regular body maintenance work performed. By ‘body maintenance’ I am referring to having periodic but consistent hands-on treatment from a therapist (massage or physio). For the male Boomers I refer to this as ‘panel-beating’ of their bodeis, for the female Boomers I refer to it as ‘maintenance’. Semantics aside, the principle is that our body’s musculo-skeletal system will function better when it is regularly serviced and tended to by such treatment. I often educate Boomers that they may spend thousands of dollars each year on servicing their motor vehicle-without hesitation. Typically they will get five to ten years of use out of their motor vehicle. Yet when it comes to their very own body (a machine far more intricately crafted than a motor vehicle), many Boomers neglect to invest or spend any dollars on maintaining the very vehicle that they need to drive for life! This makes no sense. Manual hands on therapy can include: joint mobilisations, manipulations, soft tissue massage, and even dry needling. The net effect is less tension in key muscle groups around key joints-which results in better function and improved physical performance. Not only will the regularly treated Boomer feel better and perform better, they will also be proactively functioning better with their body throughout the coming decades. At POGO we call this the 3rd P of our 3P Philosophy of Treatment: Prolong. As for how often a Boomer should get body maintenance work performed, as a guide I would suggest a minimum of every 8 weeks. I see many Boomers who see me monthly and do very well as a result with their bodies. There is a stark difference between a Boomer’s body who ‘gets’ the concept of maintenance as opposed to one who doesn’t.
So dear Baby Boomers please take heed of these 7 mistakes. Pick just one mistake and take some form of corrective action starting from today.
Remember you only get one ‘earth-suit’ so please look after it!
Yours in Prolonged Health,
Brad Beer (APAM)
Physiotherapist, Author You CAN Run Pain Free!, Founder POGO Physio
*‘Baby boomers’ refer to Australian residents who were born in Australia or overseas during the years 1946 to 1965.
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, Population Projections 1997 to 2051, cat. no. 3222.0, ABS, Canberra source: http://www.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/abs@.nsf/2f762f95845417aeca25706c00834efa/a2cd8d204f84e882ca2570ec001117a1!OpenDocument