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CindySays: Living longer doesn't mean living better

By Cindy Boggs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you were born between 1946 and 1964, you're a Baby Boomer. In 2010, there were 78 million of us and we made up more than a quarter of the U.S. population.

Since 1946, there are some positives to report -- medicine has improved, and because of this our life expectancy has been lengthened. However, according to a recent study, the extra years we've been awarded aren't necessarily going to be good ones.

The study, published in February in the Journal of the American Medical Association journal Internal Medicine, examined the health status of Baby Boomers relative to the previous generation and showed more Baby Boomers had hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol and were more likely to be obese than their parents' generation. Unfortunately, this dispels the rumor that we are the healthiest and most-active generation.

Boomer health bust

West Virginia University School of Medicine conducted the study, and its lead author, Dr. Dana King, chairman of the WVU Department of Family Medicine, was surprised to discover that Boomers weren't as healthy as once believed.

King and his team used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey, comparing the results from 1988-94 to the results from 2007-10. They focused on those who ranged in age from 46 to 64 during these periods. When they looked at the two cohorts with regard to overall health, functional limitation, lifestyle habits and prevalence of chronic disease, they found the following distressing statistics:

Prevalence of condition / 46-64 years old in 1988-94 (%) / 46-64 years old in 2007-10 (%)

Hypertension / 36.4 / 43

High cholesterol / 33.8 / 73.5

Diabetes / 12 / 16

Obesity / 29.4 / 38.7

Use cane / 3 / 7

Limitations for daily tasks / 8.8 / 13

No exercise / 17.4 / 52

Report health as excellent / 32 / 13

Awareness campaigns

The statistics are alarming, and it seems as if we should know better. Here we are getting sicker during a time when millions of dollars are being spent educating us on how to be healthier. There are countless federal, state and even community-based efforts facilitating physical activity and nutrition programs as well as policy change on many levels that support health. Public health campaigns along with improvements in health screenings would make us think our quality of life should be moving in a positive direction.

"Medication use has definitely increased," King explained, "so we are propping ourselves up on our canes and our medicines. We are becoming over dependent on medications and surgical solutions rather than creating our own good health."

Control your destiny

The rising obesity rate and the chronic disease that accompanies it will continue to outweigh even our best health campaigns and medical therapies. As Baby Boomers inch closer to 70, there will be longer waits at doctor offices, and we will need more and more health-care professionals because of the sheer numbers of people with declining health.

More than half of Baby Boomers get no physical activity! We must take control of our weight and lifestyle habits as these choices determine our destiny. Exercising and accepting responsibility for the food and beverages we consume must be on top of the to-do list.

Misconception of longer life

Sedentary lifestyles and poor diets carry serious implications with regard to the need for more medical care. King said, "Baby Boomers are living longer, so I think there may be presumptions from that that they are the healthiest generation. But they are not in excellent health while they are waiting around to live two to three years longer. Unfortunately, they may be living longer with a greater burden of chronic disease and more disability. It's not exactly a good public health outcome."

Be inspired, start small

Despite the gloomy results of this study, it points out that it's never too late to improve the quality of your life by eating better and moving more. Small changes translate into big rewards. Start with small increments of activity and add time and intensity gradually. Incorporate leisure activities such as gardening; dog walking; or swimming or water exercise, which is easy on joints. Any "go-at-your-own-pace" activity is beneficial to your health and will gradually improve the way you look and feel.

Cindy Boggs, wellness presenter and author, is an ACE-certified instructor/trainer. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to cindysays@aol.com. Look for her award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her website, www.cindysays.com.


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