Are Boomers Really Living Longer?

Boomers are generally identified as those born between 1946 and 1964, and according to statistics over 10 million Canadians and 78 million Americans fall into this category. Studies show that those turning 65 today are living almost 5 ½ years longer than a person who reached 65 in 1950. This appears to be good news; bolstered by media and government actions that suggest the trend will continue.

Marc Freedman’s recent story in the Wall Street Journal – How to Make the Most of Longer Lives, identified ways in which we might fill those added days. Studies are being done on what impact a longer lifespan will have on the economy and the health system, with the goal to not only live longer, but live better. The future sounds pretty darn good.

There is just one little issue.

Is it true that we are living longer? Dr Elizabeth Badley et al, University of Toronto, published research findings in the Milbank Quarterly this spring that challenged the commonly held belief that we are in fact living longer. “We found no evidence to support the expectation that baby boomers will age more or less healthily than previous cohorts did.”

Dr. Badley attributed the shift to an obesity epidemic. After an exhaustive analysis of Canadian health records from 1994 and 2010, she and her team found that the benefits of education, affluence, and reduced tobacco use over the years were almost neutralized by the rising incidence of obesity among baby boomers.

In his paper – The Aging of the Baby Boomer Generation: Catastrophe or Catalyst for Improvement?, Dr Andrew Wister at Simon Fraser University, stated “a review of studies examining eating habits suggests that the tendency for portion sizes to bulge and food quality to decline has likely cancelled moderate improvements in exercise level for the boomer generation.”

Carol Goar, Toronto Star columnist, summarized it best in her June 23, 2015 article Wake Up Call for Overweight Baby Boomers – For many years “medical technology was improving, people were becoming more knowledgeable about their health, once deadly diseases were being reduced to manageable conditions and life expectancy was going up. But over time, those positive trends were undercut by changes in North American behavior. First, home cooked meals dwindled, then physical activity fell off, while stress levels and nutrition related chronic diseases spread. Hypertension, stroke, cancer and dementia may not kill people but they limit their ability to travel, socialize, eat out, play golf, go back to school or do voluntary work.”

More needs to be done to identify contributing factors and provide methods to improve diets, address negative eating patterns, and increase daily physical activity. Although the government has a responsibility, we each need to look in the mirror and make the decision on what we can do today to help ourselves have a healthier tomorrow.
When you know better – you do better. It’s time we took action to do better.

Sandra Downey

B+P+S = A Healthy Longevity Equation

Reading the breadth of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) 2013-2018 Strategic Plan, focused on supporting a healthy longevity; I started and stopped at Priority 1 of its five priorities. Priority 1 hits the nail on the head. Interactive and holistic, it highlights how the accumulative benefits of combining Biological, Psychological and Social factors contribute towards healthy aging. Working the equation, it comes down to combining practical activities, something each individual can control.

Biological: The Cardiovascular system is one of the ten systems that keeps our bodies going; a major contributor for healthy aging. More and more, the health professions are promoting exercise, “Cardio” is a term the media favours. That means get moving. The more we move, the more often we move and the more we increase our levels of activity the better our cardiovascular system works.

Psychological: Enhancement of life is a skill developed by life experience. We now know a change of scene can change a mood. Experiencing nature – greenery, trees, waters are proven mood lifters and can heal the psyche.  In urban areas people watching is 24 hour a day street theater and comes without a big-ticket price.

Social: Real time interaction with friends and neighbours helps us maintain social support systems. Talking on the phone or Skype is not the only way to stay connected; sometimes we need to focus on topics without the structure of home and phone.  Again getting out and about is the way to go.

So what brings these three important factors together?

“Twalking” I call it. Start the walk slow, picking up the pace as you become fitter. You can tell if the pace is safe if you can talk and walk without panting for breath. Can we “twalk”? Having a walking-buddy motivates us to exercise. The bonus in the making of this part of the equation is that a walking group provides a social network, offering a psychological outlet for airing everyday life challenges.

So now that we know how to easily contribute to healthy longevity at little or no cost then we can do the math on healthy aging – B+P+S = A Healthy Longevity.

 

Mary Ellen Tomlinson

Fitness Incentives: Motivation for Active Aging?

Endless data confirms that staying physically fit has significant benefits as we age.  I recently read an interesting story in Arianna Huffington’s new book ‘Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-being, Wisdom, and Wonder’ that made me think – what motivates us to stay healthy as we age?

In 2005, US based supermarket Safeway learned that their annual employee health care bill was $1 billion and rising by $100 million/year. Researching the reasons behind these figures, they found that 70% of health care costs were associated to people’s behavior.  This revelation led Safeway to develop a win-win solution, introducing programs that provided employees with tools to address health issues such as weight loss, controlling blood pressure and managing cholesterol levels.

Safeway then established a baseline health insurance premium with behavior based discounts.  Employees got discounts based on working towards better self care which resulted in decreased costs for the employee and increased productivity for the company. It was a huge success.

The Ontario government has taken a similar step through the introduction of a Children’s Fitness Tax Credit allowing parents to claim up to $500/year to cover registration costs associated with physical activity programs for their children. It’s time people over 55 enjoyed a similar benefit.

As early as 2011 the Canadian government began to review an Adult Fitness Tax Credit, proposing a credit of up to $500 annually for those 55+ to stay or become more active, utilizing eligible fitness expenditures. Studies related to the proposal suggested the credit would increase the physical activity of almost one million Canadians, thereby providing better health outcomes for the individual and ultimately saving long term health care costs. In the last election the Conservative government promised the Adult Fitness Tax Credit would be introduced once the federal budget was balanced, which is expected in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Now the question is – Would we be motivated to make positive changes that impact our overall well-being if monetary incentives were provided through the government or health insurers?

Why not go for a walk and think about it.
Sandra Downey

Is Nature or Nurture the Key to Longevity?

Recently I read The Biology of Belief Unleashing the power of consciousness, matter and miracles by Dr. Bruce Lipton, which reminded me how important it is to keep an open mind regarding what is possible. In addition to documenting scientific discoveries related to the new biology, he shows the significant impact that we can have on our own health and quality of life. Science is proving that it’s not just in our genes – and that’s good news!

Over the past few years, I’ve increasingly encountered conversations where people share their personal expectations about their longevity. Often it sounds like this: ” I know I’ll get heart disease because high blood pressure runs in my family – both of my parents had it by their mid 40s” or “I’m sure I’ll die of cancer – everyone in my family gets cancer.”  Our family history may provide clues and suggest what to monitor or focus on in our health, but it isn’t the whole story.

“Epigenetics” as described in the book literally means – “control above the genes” and is the new science that Dr. Lipton defines (pg xv) as “… how environmental signals select, modify and regulate gene activity.” Scientific evidence is challenging the belief that the genes we inherit determine our fate. Increasingly science shows that we can change or at least modify our DNA and thus our potential longevity.

The book documents objective evidence of ways our thoughts and perceptions (the environment) can impact gene activity in stem cells. The biochemical effects of the brain’s functioning shows that our cells are affected by energy created outside of themselves by positive and negative thoughts.

The invitation, as I see it, is to keep up with the explosion of new discoveries, to broaden our perception of what is possible and to have the courage to incorporate implications of the findings into our lives.

Lorraine Clemes

 

Owning Our Health As We Age

In today’s multimedia world, we have fast access to abundant knowledge on practically every health and health care topic in the known universe. The good news is we can self educate. The bad news is that there is a tendency to self diagnose, which may not help in making well informed decisions.

As we age we’re faced with growing concerns around:

  • maintaining our health, well being and independence
  • affordable health care being available – when we need it
  • having enough money to cover unexpected health costs
  • living a life that will help sustain optimum health, for years to come

How do we avoid the stress of over-thinking that intake of abundant knowledge? The stress created by a sense of vulnerability negatively impacts us mentally and physically. Worry keeps the mind in overdrive and wears down the body’s resources.  It’s easy to get caught up in the negatives but that only contributes to the downward spiral of anxiety and worry.

Good health isn’t merely the absence of disease (dis – ease) or symptoms; it’s a state of well-being.  There are many ways we can own our health that require minimal time or money.  It may not be through familiar methods, but staying open to the options allows us to explore areas that complement standard medical treatments. 

For thousands of years balancing the mind, body and spirit has been achieved through what we may view as non traditional methods.  This includes natural remedies such as herbs or plants; physical exercise such as walking or yoga; as well as spiritually based practices such as prayer and meditation.

All you need to do is take time to listen to your body.  What is it telling you?  If you need quiet time, find 30 minutes in a day to sit with your eyes closed while breathing deeply from your belly. Your body will relax. If you feel restless take 30 minutes a day to go for a walk. You will feel energized. If you feel like you’re coming down with a cold or flu explore natural remedies available. They will work in alignment with your body.

Remember; our bodies always seek to heal themselves. We just have to listen. We can own our health as we age.

Sandra Downey