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There has been perhaps a little bit of smug complacency within the baby boomer camp. After all baby boomers are living longer, have high expectations of being able to continue doing what they love doing for longer and are enjoying better health than their parents and grandparents. They have enjoyed the benefits of better nutrition, improved living conditions, better medical treatments and vaccination programs that have enabled them to glide comfortably towards old age.

Unfortunately this image does not stand up to reality. It’s time to take off the rose coloured glasses and take a closer look at what is really going on.

Yes baby boomers are living longer. Statistics have revealed that the average life expectancy for men and women continues to steadily increase.

Access to and the ability to buy good quality food has also continued to be a major plus.

Continuing high expectations reveal that many baby boomers are shying away from retirement and choosing instead to focus their energies and times to work in different forms; perhaps part time employment, charity work or volunteering. All very admirable for those that can.

But in terms of health, baby boomers aren’t doing nearly as well as they would like to think.

Research from Canada has shown that 80% of baby boomers polled think their doctors would rate them as being healthy and yet, many do not have healthy eating habits, over 50% are inactive, one in 10 drinks heavily and one in five smokes.

Researchers from Adelaide reported in late 2012 that the proportion of baby boomers that are living with three or more chronic conditions was  700% greater than the previous generation! This is a change seen over a period of just twenty years.

In addition of higher levels of asthma and hearing loss, baby boomers have THREE times the rate of diabetes and DOUBLE the cholesterol levels of their parents.

The incidence of smoking and heart attacks has reduced, which provides some good news but it is the rapidly increasing numbers with OBESITY and DIABETES who are the major concern because of all the associated morbidity and disability factors that go along with these chronic health conditions.

The rates of OBESITY amongst baby boomers HAVE DOUBLED that of their parents at the same age.  38% are obese and 39% overweight.

There are sadly many more people in their forties, fifties and early sixties with marked mobility and joint problems that require a cane or other means to assist getting around.

Twenty years ago, over 30% of the parents of baby boomers were engaged in some form of physical activity to stay fit.

Today only 18% of baby boomers are engaged in regular physical activity, (which means exercising three times a week.) 61% do not undertake sufficient physical activity.

What are the implications of this?

1. We recognise we have a rapidly ageing population fuelled by the baby boomer generation who are living longer, but who are actually less fit and with more chronic medical conditions. This is going to mean a lot more people will be accessing the health system at a time in their lives when health costs are expected to go up simply associated with increasing age.

2. There will be more, older people living with chronic health conditions and mobility issues meaning they won’t be able to live out their longer lives doing what they had hoped to do. So, what will they be doing instead?

3. Obesity and diabetes are risk factors for cognitive decline. The implication here is that there will be a greater number of baby boomers at risk of memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease which will add further to the burden of families and carers.

What can be done to address this?

The first step would appear to be for baby boomers to face up to the existing reality and to build awareness that the choices they make now will have a significant impact on their health and wellbeing for today and for the next ten to twenty years.

If expectations are not to be dashed, policies and education must be provided now to reinforce the need for a proactive response. To encourage physical activity and to assist those with weight management and other chronic medical conditions to take action to help improve their health. These measures needed to have been implemented yesterday and the longer it takes for thought processes to change, the harder is going to become.

Preventative measures are the most important. Particularly as the evidence now suggests that Generation X are doing worse than the baby boomers…

If you are a baby boomer, what action are you taking to protect your brain and body, to allow yourself to age gracefully?

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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