Older Americans have a much better chance to enjoy many more years of good health and vitality than any generation before them due to better medical treatment and easier access to healthcare, according to a recent study, based on data collected by government health agencies over the last three decades. On average, seniors living today in the United States can expect about two more years of healthy living than their parents.
Health problems that were debilitating just a short while ago, like vision problems or cardiovascular disease, can now be treated more successfully, said Dr. David Cutler, an economics professor at Harvard University and one of the authors of the study report.
“There are a number of conditions, such as heart disease, that used to be very, very impairing. It used to be that after a severe heart attack, people would essentially be bedridden, or they would wind up in nursing homes. We’re not seeing that anymore,” he added.
While that is good news for retiring Baby Boomers, these findings are not universally applicable. A higher percentage of the boomer generation (about 36 percent) is obese compared to any other group in the U.S. The two generations directly above and below are about 25 percent. That puts boomers at an exceptionally high risk of suffering from diet and lifestyle-related illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer, all of which may be treatable but still have diminishing effects on people’s quality of life.
In other words, although boomers can greatly benefit from the enormous medical and pharmaceutical advances that have been made over the last decades, their well-being still largely depends on how well they take care of themselves.
Unfortunately, current trends are not pointing in the right direction. Studies show that younger boomers, those born in the 1960s, have a higher prevalence of obesity than those born one or two decades earlier. The overall increase in obesity rates throughout the boomer generation is steeper than any other before them.
Considering the means and opportunities older Americans have today to meet their health needs, it is surprising that so many ended up less healthy than previously thought, said Dr. Dana King of the West Virginia University Department of Family Medicine and author of a study on the health prospects of the aging population.
The reasons for these developments are multiple and they are well documented. Increased food consumption, poor diet choices and sedentary lifestyles are at the forefront, as they are in most other parts of the population suffering from weight problems and related ills. Likewise, the solutions would be similar.
It would indeed be surprising if this generation that has always been known for its high expectations couldn’t meet the challenges of healthy aging. There is certainly no shortage of advice for how to go about it.
Yes, boomers are lucky to be able to benefit from many opportunities that were not available before, but they can also learn from some old-fashioned wisdom that helped our forbearers to get through life – sometimes better than we know how to today.
Timi Gustafson is the author of “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.” Find more tips for a healthy lifestyle in her book which is available at local bookstores, at amazon.com and at her blog. Visit timigustafson.com to read many more Glad You Asked Q+A sessions and post your own questions, comments and suggestions.