WASHINGTON -- As more people weight train, more get hurt -- especially baby boomers and older people who are trying to keep from showing their age, a study finds.
The weight training is fine, but people ought to learn to do it right, said researcher Chester S. Jones of the University of Arkansas, who reviewed federal injury data over 20 years.
"That seemed to come out of the data -- that people weren't practicing safety," Jones said. "There are proper ways to do weights, and things that are necessary to prevent injury."
Jones and his colleagues reviewed statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on hospital emergency room visits from 1978 to 1998. Based on 101 hospitals in the CDC's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the researchers projected that 980,173 people were treated nationally for weight training-related injuries over the 20 years.
The weight training injury rate rose by 35 percent over that period. And some groups had far greater jumps in their emergency room visits.
The largest spike was in injuries per 100,000 men 65 years of age and older, which rose 303 percent from 1978 to 1998, the study said. Injuries per 100,000 women ages 45-64, the second greatest spike, rose 281 percent. Those jumps were offset in the overall population by smaller decreases in other categories, and one group -- boys ages 5-14 -- in which injury rates fell almost 12 percent instead of rising.
Overall, men in general had an increase in injuries of 28 percent, while women had an increase of 64 percent. Jones said the larger percentage for injuries to women may reflect the surge of women into weight training during the study period.
The size of those percentage differences may be deceptive, however, because they are spread over two decades. On a year-to-year basis, the increases were gradual.
And the increase probably does not mean weight training had become more dangerous over the 20 years, Jones said. What drove up the injury rate could be simply that more people took up weight training, he said.
Injuries most commonly took place in the home, which accounted for 40 percent of cases, which indicates people weren't getting instruction on how to lift, he said.
Most of the injuries were to the hands and feet, indicating people didn't know how to handle the weights, Jones said. Weight training, done properly, is not only safe, it is beneficial, strengthening bone as well as muscle, he said.
Especially for older people, "weight training was not a preferred activity 20 years ago," Jones said. This changed as research, largely in the last decade, showed that even frail 80- and 90-year olds can restore enough muscle strength to improve their lives, such as their ability to do household chores, by taking up weight training. In addition, weight training retards the loss of bone density that can develop into osteoporosis.
However, older exercisers may not realize the risks, and this may account for their outsized injury rates, Jones said. "Weight training can be a very physical exercise, and maybe a lot of these older people aren't ready to participate," he said.
Exercise is valuable, but older people should get information on how to start safely, talk about their health with their primary care physician, and learn about the background of any personal trainer they may hire, before they start exercise, said Chhanda Dutta, director of musculoskeletal research at the National Institute on Aging, who was not connected with the study.
"Keep in mind your starting point," Dutta said.
The research also found a jump in injuries among boys ages 4 and younger -- up 23 percent. These injuries commonly happened in the home, Jones said.
Parents can be blamed for those injuries, said Dr. Reginald L. Washington of Denver, who chairs the sports medicine committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Almost always, when a child gets injured in that situation, it's with parental support and encouragement," he said.
Children in these ages are being pushed to weight train because parents wrongly think their children will get a head start toward being world class athletes that way, said Washington, who was not connected with the study. But children can't gain muscle until puberty; the most they can gain earlier is some toning, he said.
On the Net:
National Institute on Aging: http://www.nih.gov/nia
The Physician and Sportsmedicine: http://www.physsportsmed.com
Weight Training Injury Trends article: http://www.physsportsmed.com/issues/2000/07--00/jones.htm
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