Baby boomers, born 1946-64, are living longer but increasingly unhealthy lives. What can you do to buck the trend?
Analysing the lifestyles of recent generations, from those who lived through the Second World War onwards, can give us a fascinating insight into the habits that support long, healthy lives – and why the disconnect between baby boomers’ longevity and their quality of life is so marked.
A baby boomer is a person born following the Second World War, between 1946 and 1964, whilst Generation X was born 1965-80, millennials 1980-2000, and Generation Z from the mid-1990s through to the second decade of this century.
The baby boom refers to the marked increase in the birth rate during those years. For example, 76.4 million people were born in the US, representing 21% of the population.
The reasons for the boom are easy enough to understand: the end of the war brought a newly optimistic mood – people who had been uncertain now felt confident enough to plan for the future and have children; and women who had been employed during the war got the chance to leave work and stay at home to start a family.
How can you spot a boomer?
Baby boomers formed the largest generational group in US history until the millennial generation surpassed them. They enjoyed the emerging use of credit to purchase consumer goods, such as cars and TVs. And some, in turn, became dissatisfied with this consumer culture and created the youth counterculture movement of the 1960s.
But………this generation suffers from obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), cancer and heart disease. And the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention estimates that one in six women and one in ten men who live past the age of 55 will develop dementia in their lifetime.
Baby boomers are more prosperous than their parents. They are more likely to own their own homes, have a positive attitude, and try new experiences. The downside of this is that some of them have not planned properly for their retirement, and are now facing the consequences, with insufficient savings and worry about debt.
They are generally hard-working and competitive – their sheer numbers meant that they had to work hard at school and in society generally to get on. Whilst baby boomers are comfortable in company, having grown up in larger families and among friends, they can also display certain selfish independence in their efforts to succeed.
But their health is not booming
Obesity has become more prevalent over the last 20 years, bringing with it high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, vision loss, nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, leg and foot problems and potential amputation.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women over 60, but this falls significantly when people avoid tobacco, control blood pressure and cholesterol through exercise and diet, have a low sodium diet, and maintain a healthy weight. Cancer, dementia, and depression are also on the rise.
Many baby boomers are simultaneously caring for their children and their elderly parents. The stress of this can be significant, especially for those who are also working, struggling financially, or dealing with other challenges.
Boomers also have arthritis, with more women over the age of 60 than men experiencing stiff, swollen, and painful joints. Maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise such as yoga or walking will help.
Osteoporosis is another problem – mostly in women after 65 and men over 70 – when the density of bone decreases significantly, resulting in breaks. The natural treatment is vitamin D and K2.
Seasonal flu also causes high mortality in those over 65, compounded this year by Covid-19.
In one study, boomers who were caregivers were found to have more chronic disease, more disability and lower self-rated health compared with non-caregivers, putting them at risk of needing care themselves, of course.
They are more likely to have arthritis (44%), asthma (11%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (11%), and have one or more chronic health conditions (63%.) 15% of caregiving boomers also reported frequent mental distress.
The healthcare system is going to get hit by a double whammy, as 20% of the population will need more care, at the same time as the number of people who can provide it decreases significantly.
As well as this concern about the workforce and service delivery, families with ageing loved ones will also be under pressure to afford quality care.
And caring for seniors is challenging mentally, emotionally, and physically, and the pay is low. So, the people there either are highly dedicated, or they don’t stay. By 2025, we will need 7.8 million of these workers, and many jobs may go unfilled.
Retire – and speed up!
In the UK, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) says that people live longer, but that retirement (more free time) presents a real opportunity for baby boomers to be more active, not less. It should be a chance for many people to take on new challenges, not to start a slower pace of life as it once was.
Staying at work, volunteering, or joining a community group can make sure people stay physically and mentally active for longer. The health benefits of this cannot be overestimated.
A third of British workers are over 50, with 75% of people aged between 50 and pension age still in active employment, 12% older than pension age still working. More women now work, representing 46% of the workforce compared with 30% in the past.
When people do retire, they generally live longer. In the past, a man of 65 could expect to live approximately 10 years in retirement before passing away, making finances manageable for most people.
Today, financial planners use a life expectancy of 90 to 95 years. With dwindling health, rising health care costs and a lack of savings, the financial requirements of living those 30 years are out of reach for many.
These issues have been quietly gaining momentum for years, and, with most baby boomers retiring soon, we are facing a crisis.
A generation of narcissists
Baby boomers tend towards the best available option – wanting to see the best cardiologist and the best endocrinologist – while really a visit to their local nutritionist or chiropractor would offer more benefit.
They tend to focus on appearance rather than the actual value. For example, being thin does not mean you are healthy if you also have a poor diet, smoke, and neglect exercise.
Baby boomers are living longer but not necessarily healthier. The Journal of the American Medical Association study reported lower activity levels, obesity, high cholesterol, and take more medication for diabetes and hypertension than previous generations. It also revealed a slightly higher cancer rate and that they drink alcohol in moderation, but combining this with inactivity, poor dietary habits and obesity negated any potential benefit. It concluded that boomers are less healthy because they are not practising healthy lifestyles.
Unfortunately, the great generation who survived the depression and fought World War II produced a generation of narcissists.
13% of baby boomers rate their health as excellent, compared with 32% in the previous generation. 7% of boomers use a stick or similar device to help them walk, compared with only 3% of their parents. 13% have some limitation in their ability to perform daily activities, compared with 8.8% before. 75% of baby boomers are hypertensive, against only 35% of their elders.
The wrong tools
Why are public health campaigns and improved therapies not having a greater impact on these rates of disease?
Well, the effect of obesity swamps any incremental improvements in chronic disease — more people are overweight or obese than ever before, triggering a host of problems.
And rather than treat the root cause, our remarkable advances in medicine — with cholesterol- and blood pressure-lowering drugs, and heart bypasses — only allow, and indeed encourage, the unhealthy patient to live a longer unhealthy and disease-burdened life.
“Medication use has definitely increased, so we are propping ourselves upon our canes and our medicines,” says King. “We are becoming over-dependent on medications and surgical solutions rather than creating our own good health.”
The public health campaigns encouraging more physical activity, or improved eating habits, are fighting a losing battle against the advertising of foods high in salt, fat and sugar.
The cruel myth: longest-living = healthiest
Whatever your age, you can reverse or avoid chronic disease, by eating the right real food, increasing physical activity, getting enough sleep and relaxation, reducing stress, and experiencing love, forgiveness, gratitude, great relationships, and plenty of sunshine!
Straightforward first steps involve things like improving your diet, starting to move, sharpening your brain, taking quality supplements, balancing your hormones, and getting your finances in order.
Some baby boomers have always been keen to live an active life past their 50s, and this spawned the health and fitness market. You can now take advantage of these methods to support your own healthy lifestyle.
So, my friends, the secret to living longer whilst also living healthily is not complicated – eat a good diet, with low levels of salt, fat, and sugar, take regular physical exercise (in the fresh air and sun, if possible), get enough sleep, reduce stress, and enjoy happy family and social time.
If you’re a baby boomer, it’s not too late to make those changes. If you’re not, it’s never too early!
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