If you were born between 1946 and 1965, you’re part of the post-Second World War phenomenon known as the baby boom. Now ranging in age from 53 to 72, this segment of the population – myself included – represents the largest demographic group in Canada. Boomers account for nearly one-third of the Canadian population.
In 1871, the Canadian life expectancy was just 40 and only one in three Canadians lived to at least 65. Today, life expectancy is 82 and nine of 10 Canadians are expected to live to at least 65.
In the mid-20th century, there were proportionally more young people in Canada than there are today. Due to the drop in the birth rate and the steady increase in life expectancy, the median age of the Canadian population rose from 27 to 39 in a span of only 50 years. This means half of Canadians are over the age of 39. According to Statistics Canada, “From 2011 to 2016, Canada registered the largest increase in the proportion of seniors since Confederation. This acceleration of population aging is due to the first baby boomers reaching the age of 65.” https://tinyurl.com/yajortdp
The only qualification for being a baby boomer is being born between 1946 and 1965. Twenty years ago, gerontologist David Demko coined the term “Zoomer” to differentiate a subset of boomers based on several criteria. Zoomers or boomers with zip, according to Demko, are different from boomers. Zoomers keep an active mind, an active body and a positive attitude about healthy aging. With a healthy diet, regular exercise, neurobics (mental stimulation), a social network and financial planning, Demko says we can age successfully and prevent many lifestyle-related diseases. Also, many of the limitations associated with aging can be overcome by lifestyle and with an attitude that change is possible. Many studies have shown the numerous benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
From the 1960s through the 1980s, boomers were young adults and were at the forefront of the fitness revolution. They had the attitude that they’d stay forever young. Gyms, exercise shows on television and home exercise videos were popular. By the late 1980s, 69 per cent of American adults were regularly exercising and life expectancy rose steadily.
Today, 80 per cent of boomers believe they will live longer than their parents did. However, lifestyles have become more sedentary and boomers as a group have experienced declines in health and mobility compared to when their parents were middle-aged. Only 30 per cent of boomers under the age of 65 exercise regularly, even fewer – about 25 per cent – over 65 do, and 52 per cent of all boomers have no exercise routine at all.
Though boomers have a longer life expectancy than previous generations, thanks to medical advances and a reduction in smoking and heavy drinking, it’s a myth that boomers are fitter than their parents were. In fact, compared to their parents at the same age, the boomer generation has double the rate of obesity, higher rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, higher rates of hypertension and hypercholesterolemia, more mobility issues and lower self-rated health. https://tinyurl.com/ydesq6m6
More than half of boomers surveyed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation in 2006 held the false belief that their weight has little or no impact on their heart health. https://tinyurl.com/y7em7vp9.
Glancing through a boomers-oriented magazine, I noticed that many of the articles and ads pertain to funeral and estate planning, hearing aids, assistive devices for stair climbing, and other products and services often associated with aging. While it’s important to be realistic and well-informed about such topics, it’s equally if not more important for boomers to be well-informed about how to invest in their health by taking preventative measures such as eating better and moving more. As more boomers approach retirement or become empty nesters, the newfound luxury of spare time can be used for physical activities and healthy meal planning. Even busy boomers who still work or have children at home can fit in small but healthful changes.
An active lifestyle is the cornerstone of healthy aging; it helps maintain health, mobility, independence and overall quality of life as we age. Exercise is beneficial at every stage of life; yet, only 11 per cent of people over 85 regularly exercise. Attitude really does play a major role in how you think about age and abilities. It’s never too late to make some changes and to enjoy the health benefits. Kudos to boomers already doing so. Boomers who adopt preventative strategies today may preserve their health and mobility well into old age.