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Holiday-Proof Baby Boomer Bodies

A series of reports by CBS News and USA TODAY explores the aging of an iconic generation and the impact on the nation, as the oldest baby boomers get set to mark their 65th birthdays in January

Back pain from contorting your body to hang decorations? Weight gain from all those holiday parties? Lack of stamina for shopping?

If you're a baby boomer, it's entirely possible you've experienced those or similar holiday-related health bummers.

But, as part of the continuing "Senior Moment" CBS News series, being done in conjunction with print partner USA Today, Geralyn Coopersmith, Director of Equinox Fitness Training Institute, told how to avert or remedy a number of those sorts of health problems.

CBS News/USA Today Series: Senior Moment

Holiday Problem #1: Weight Gain

• Overeating at holiday parties
• Inactivity

Just one of the causes of weight gain during the holiday season: Not only are we overeating, but we're not burning off the additional calories. According to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine, "Most people don't ever lose the weight they put on during the holidays." Luckily, avoiding weight gain during the holidays is as easy as pie!

Don't gear your holiday happenings around eating.

Get active! Step aerobics is one great way to burn a lot of calories doing a low-impact workout (you can burn 200 calories in just 20 minutes). When talking cardio it's about time spent performing the exercise, not the repetition. For this work-out, I recommend 20 minutes (at minimum) 3 times a week. And remember…cardio workouts like these will not only stave off the holiday weight, but has added benefits for baby boomers. Weekly cardio workouts have been shown to improve memory, mental focus, prevents or delays cognitive decline and reduced risk of dementia. It also increases the availability and production of neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine - the hormones that are thought to contribute to our feelings of happiness.)

Holiday Problem #2: Lower Back Pain

• Shopping/carrying packages
• Poor lifting techniques
• Lack of hip flexibility
• Weak core muscles

The lower back is a problem area for many people as they age. Baby boomers are also more likely to have weak core muscles and reduced lack of flexibility in their hips. Combine this with a time of year where you're carrying heavy objects (like this shopping bag on the demo pedestal) and you could have a recipe for an injury.

Learn to lift! - One of the main causes of low back injuries is bending over something and lifting it with your back. Ideally you should be lifting from your hips, using the strength of the biggest muscle in the body, the glutes, to do the heavy lifting. Lift something correctly. The hip hinge is a great way to do this. You can use a dowel or broomstick to check your form. Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, feet parallel. Hold a stick behind your back (one hand behind the head, one in the curve of your back) keeping the stick against the back of your head, your upper back and your butt- hinge forward with your upper body still and return to the start. Do 10 reps for 2 sets.

Also: Strengthen your core! This advice may surprise you, but no more crunches! Your abdominals are part of core muscles that are meant to stabilize your body and keep your spine straight. Crunches involve the exact opposite movement, whereby you flex your spine and "crunch" at your back's weakest point. This puts more strain on your lower back and your posture suffers. Instead, scientists now believe that we should be doing plank type movements to strengthen the core. To do a plank, go into a push-up position resting on your forearms. Squeeze glutes, Tighten core and hold working up to 60 seconds. I recommend repeating this 3-5 times.

Holiday Problem #3: Forearm and Hand Pain

• Stirring / mixing while cooking
• Wrapping gifts
• Carrying packages

Use stress balls to strengthen muscles of hand and wrists. To strengthen these muscles and prevent forearm and elbow injuries use stress balls or tennis balls. Squeeze and release 10 times on one hand and then switch to the other.

Another Exercise: Stretch your wrists flexors and extensors - These stretches are easy and can be done anywhere. Just extend one forearm with the palm pointed down and with the other hand gently press into the back of the hand to feel a stretch in the top of the forearm. Then reverse your position so your palm faces the ceiling and use your hand to gently pull your fingers back. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, repeat 3 times.

Holiday Problem #4 - Tight calves/Sore Feet

• Wearing high heels
• Dancing at parties
• Standing while cooking
• Walking and shopping

What woman doesn't love to wear a strappy pair of heels to a holiday party? But dancing at your holiday parties and shopping can wreck havoc on your holiday feet.

The good news is stretching the calves and loosening the connective tissue at the bottoms of the feet can go a long way towards preventing foot and ankle pain.

Stretching your calves: Lean against a chair and lunge forward with one leg and back with the other, gently bring the back heel down to the floor. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, repeat 3 times. And remember…stretching and working out has added benefits for baby boomers including improved bone health, less risk of osteoporosis; reduce risk of falls and better balance.

Holiday Problem #5: Shoulder/Upper Back Pain / Strain

• Strain from hanging lights and decorations
• Weak back muscles
• Too much time seated

During the 2008 holiday season (Oct. 31 and Jan. 31.), there were 469 reports of holiday decorating-related injuries and investigations recorded by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. Extrapolated to the larger population, some 13,000 people are treated in ERs each year in the U.S. for injuries caused by festive décor, according to agency estimates. That sounds dramatic, but believe it or not, even constant sitting (which a lot of people will do with their holiday time off) can also do can really damage your body. Most of us have muscles in the chest that are too tight and muscles in the upper back that are stretched out and weak.


Mid-back strengtheners will strengthen weak upper back muscles that improve posture and help prevent shoulder injuries. Using a resistance band or tube up tall, hold on to the band with thumbs pointing out, with the hands about 2 feet apart. Use the muscles in between the shoulder blades to do the action - hold at the end position for a second and slowly return to the starting position. Do 10 reps.

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