PUMPING IRONY: Generation Gap?

Could we Baby Boomers actually be healthier, as a group, than the generations chasing us?

Here’s some good news for aging Baby Boomers: As bad as we may feel about our waistline, our cholesterol count, and our blood pressure, we’re actually healthier, as a group, than the generations chasing us.

That’s the conclusion of a study out of the Netherlands, reported in the current issue of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. Researchers looked at the metabolic health of 6,000 individuals in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s over the course of 35 years and found that each successive generation had a higher prevalence of heart disease risk factors (weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels) than the previous one. In the first batch of 30-somethings, for example, 40 percent were overweight. The 20-somethings at the time might have felt a big smug about that, but 10 years later, when they hit their 30s, more than half of them (52 percent to be exact) had ballooned into obesity land.

The Young and the Obese

“The prevalence of obesity in our youngest generation of men and women at the mean age of 40 is similar to that of our oldest generation at the mean age of 55,” explained the study’s lead author, Gerben Hulsegge of the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. “This means that this younger generation is 15 years ahead of the older generation and will be exposed to their obesity for a longer time.”

Being the competitive sort, I’m inclined to feel pretty good about this until it hits me that it’s a trend that could have serious public health implications. We’re not supposed to be stressing the healthcare system until we hit our 60s, 70s, and 80s. What happens when youngsters in their 40s and 50s start ringing up monstrous bills at hospitals and pharmacies for “old-folks” maladies like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease? It can’t be good.

The basic culprit in all this, according to Hulsegge, is an epidemic of inactivity among young adults. That’s not too surprising, actually. We all slow down a bit as we age. And I can recall feeling pretty much immortal before I hit my 60s; no need to go out of my way to exercise or eat right, since I would always be a healthy and vigorous young man.

Unfortunately, reality eventually intervenes. And sometimes sooner than you might imagine. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read in recent years about athletic young people who woke up in their 30s to find they’d lost their edge — and put on some serious poundage.

If that’s not enough motivation to get off the couch, try imagining a bunch of smug Boomers comparing notes on their latest triathlon times and lamenting the sorry state of our young people’s health.

I know. Pretty disgusting. See you at the gym.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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