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Despite health concerns, aging Baby Boomers find it hard to make lifestyle changes | Gustafson
Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 through 1964 – will live longer than any other generation before them, but they will not necessarily be healthier.
In fact, many are already burdened with more chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes than their parents and grandparents were. Most of these health problems are lifestyle-related and could be prevented through changes in diet, exercise and weight management, but for some reason these messages seem hard to get across.
A recent study conducted by the West Virginia University School of Medicine found that despite better education and greater awareness in health matters as well as advancements in medicine, baby boomers will likely face more sickness in their twilight years than generations before them.
The study found that the number of boomers who have high cholesterol has more than doubled compared to the previous generation. Nearly 40 percent are obese, an increase of over 10 percent in just 12 years. Less than half exercise regularly, and a rapidly growing number can't walk without using a cane or a walker. Boomers are also reported to suffer more from mental illness and alcohol and drug addiction than their parents did. In other words, baby boomers appear to be heading for retirement in worse shape than those born before World War II.
According to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private nonprofit research organization specializing in economic studies, some of the lifestyle choices of this generation are resulting in "hazardous trends" in terms of health and aging. Especially the drastic increase in weight problems and obesity over the last few decades raise serious concerns about the future health and physical functioning of aging baby boomers, the report concludes.
At the same time, a large percentage is woefully unprepared for retirement in terms of finances and coverage of their health care needs. Nearly 90 percent are not sure they will have enough money to live out their years in comfort and financial security. 44 percent have little or no faith that they can sustain themselves without outside help, and 25 percent don't think they will ever be able to retire, according to a survey by the Associated Press.
That is why health concerns are a priority for baby boomers not just per se but also for financial reasons. When Merrill Lynch, a wealth management company, asked in a recent survey thousands of Americans age 45 and older about their perspectives on retirement, the prospect of serious health problems topped the list of worries, followed by becoming a burden on loved ones and running out of money.
Health disruption is especially worrisome because it's unpredictable, can be very expensive and can force people to retire earlier than they had planned or were ready to because of disabilities, says Dr. Ken Dychtwald, a gerontologist and bestselling book author who took part in conducting the survey.
The good news is that baby boomer retirees have more and better tools at their disposal to improve their health and age better than any of their predecessors. The keyword is prevention. Just as important as putting money aside for a rainy day is to take care of one's health by eating right, exercising, staying within a healthy weight range and keeping the mind sharp. For this, it is never too soon or too late to start.
Undoubtedly, baby boomers are about to face many unprecedented challenges as they approach retirement in great numbers. But they are also well equipped to handle them with the same adventurous and pioneering spirit that got them through life so far.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book "The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun"®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, "Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D." (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter, on Facebook, on Google+ and on Pinterest.