Beginning in the 1960s, experts began to predict that the baby boom generation would be healthier than their parents and grandparents were. The boomers jogged into trends like aerobics or health food, and also were able to benefit from advances in science and medical care.
However, as decades passed, it became apparent that the prediction was not quite coming true. A study done in June 2022 by Penn State University found that older adults today are more likely to be living with multiple chronic health conditions, including things like heart disease, hypertension, strokes, diabetes, arthritis, lung disease, cancers, depression and anxiety, and cognitive impairment. When compared to people born between 1931 and 1941 at similar ages in their life, baby boomers exhibit a greater number of chronic health conditions, and many reported two or more chronic health conditions at younger ages.
Experts have naturally been trying to figure out the root cause of this trend. Some have pointed out the toll that the pandemic of the last few years has taken, but the pattern was emerging and becoming apparent long before 2020. Life expectancies were beginning to decline well before 2020 for middle aged Americans, which was a reversal of a trend that had been going on for more than a century.
Many have pointed towards lifestyle factors. While the expectation was that baby boomers would be more active than their parents, that turned out to be false. The jobs many boomers held were, on average, less physical, and often stressful. And inventions like televisions, computers, and now smartphones, often tempted boomers into couch potato lifestyles. And while health food was a trend started by their generation, many baby boomers actually ate far more prepared and fast food, and as portion sizes grew, more of it. Drug crises like the opioid epidemic also took their toll.
But there is actually a good news and bad news interpretation of the picture. Sure, advances in medicine have allowed people to live longer, but the longer life doesn’t necessarily mean a healthier life. While advances in modern medicine may allow someone to survive an illness that would previously have been fatal, surviving it may mean developing other conditions. Living with multiple chronic conditions increases the likelihood of multimorbidity.
Good medical care is an important part of aging healthily, but lifestyle is just as important. Among the things that promote healthy aging are physical activity, good nutrition, staying connected, adequate sleep, and managing conditions.
Exercise is often called the number one factor in healthy aging. Staying active helps prevent and manage many health conditions. And one need not engage in vigorous or strenuous activity. Walking, housework, gardening, and any other gentle activity that uses the body contributes to bodily health.
Studies also show that eating plenty of plant based foods, along with healthy proteins and fats, and whole grains lowers the risk of many chronic diseases and helps to maintain a healthy body weight, which in turn helps prevent some health conditions. Ask your doctor to recommend a diet that is right for your health.