Grandmothers Remedy: Baby Boomers Face Health Woes Without It

granny-flowers

By Nancy Muller, PhD, MBA

Executive Director of the National Association For Continence
 
In early February, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an alarming study1 whose researchers concluded, without a doubt, America’s baby boomers the generation born in the two decades after the end of World War II are less healthy than their parents’ generation.  Lead author and family practice physician, Dana King, and his colleagues at the West Virginia University School of Medicine used data from the federally funded National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to compare the answers of people who were 46 to 64 years old between 1988 and 1994 to those of baby boomers who were in the same age range between 2007 and 2010. The two population groups were similar demographically except for culture and race, as there was a slightly higher percentage of both non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics represented in the 2007 and 2010 period, reflective of the overall shift in U.S. population.

Thirteen percent of baby boomers self-reported being in “excellent” health in middle age. That compares with 32 percent of the previous generation who said the same thing at the same stage of their lives.  But it was the degree of obesity and disability that shocked even the researchers. Overall, 39 percent of boomers were obese, compared with 29 percent of the previous generation, a significant and large difference in just 20 years. They also discovered from the data that baby boomers were more than twice as likely as people from the previous generation to use a cane or walker. Despite their fetish with gym memberships, home exercise equipment, and “action sports,” baby boomers were also less likely to get regular exercise. In other words, the baby boomer generation is not the physically active generation that it is made out to be. Of course, the doctors know this intuitively because of what they see daily in their medical practices. About 16 percent of baby boomers had diabetes, compared with 12 percent of the previous generation. And baby boomers were more likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Medications help to keep chronic cardiovascular disease in check, however. Therefore, baby boomers were less likely to have had a heart attack.  Also on the healthier side of the balance sheet, researchers saw from the data that they do not smoke tobacco as much as the previous generation and are thus less likely to have the lung disease emphysema.

While the Buck Institute for Research on Aging can take such findings and promote their agenda to slow the aging process, there is no remedy for behavioral self-care and old fashioned prescriptions for good health and a long, healthy life:  sound, balanced nutrition, weight management, and regular exercise.  We need all kinds of exercise, too.  Strength-building to help combat osteoporosis and thinning of the bones, routine, fat-burning, cardiovascular workouts for our heart and lungs, and stretching exercises to help with balance and fall prevention especially as we age. After our mid-20’s we lose 2% of our muscle mass each and every year unless we engage in exercises to restore the muscle tissue. That includes internal muscles we never see, such as our pelvic floor muscles in supporting continence and the pelvic organs and whose fibers and adjacent ligaments are already taxed during labor and vaginal delivery in the female gender.

It’s high time to put Grandmother’s healthy lifestyle habits back to work!

 

 

 

1King DE, Matheson E, Chirina S, Shankar A, Broman-Fulks J. The Status of Baby Boomers Health in the United States: The Healthiest Generation? JAMA Intern Med. 2013:1-2. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.2006.

 

 

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