Baby Boomers can do More to Improve Health, Experts Say
By AMY NEFF ROTH
Marvin Jones found out he needed a health makeover the hard
way – he had a heart attack at age 54.
“It woke me up,” he said.
So Jones, now 55, has given up eating fast food lunches with
the young guys he works with at the Herkimer County
Sheriff’s Office. Instead, he’s become a salad man.
“I didn’t realize how far out of shape I really was because
I was always active,” said Jones, who lives in Cold Brook.
Like Jones, millions of baby boomers born between 1946 and
1964 are facing the consequences of poor lifestyle choices –
or reaping the rewards of good choices – as they head into
their 50s and 60s. The oldest boomers turn 65 this year.
Their life expectancy at birth was only 66.7 years, but now
65-year-olds can expect to live another 19 years.
“They have a significant role to play in the quality of
their golden years,” said Dr. Frank Dubeck, chief medical
officer and vice president medical policy at Excellus
Change comes hard
A recent Excellus report shows that many boomers aren’t
making the right choices. For example, only 31 percent of
Upstate seniors ages 60 to 65 have gotten colorectal cancer
screenings and only 35.5 percent have had a pneumonia
vaccine, according to the report.
Many of Dubeck’s patients in their 60s think it’s too late
for change to do any good, he said. But they’re wrong, he
Jones already is reaping the benefits of the changes he’s
made since his heart attack, such as cutting out fatty
foods. “(My coworkers) were always ordering pizza and subs
and stuff. I put weight on. They didn’t,” he said.
Jones also goes to the gym a couple times a week and tries
to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day, he said.
The payoff? He’s lost 60 pounds. His blood pressure,
cholesterol and sugar levels, once high enough for
prediabetes, have dropped. And his energy levels have
soared, he said.
“I haven’t been in this good shape in probably 20 years,”
And he doesn’t see himself backsliding. “Once I changed,
it’s very easy to stay with it,” he said. “I mean, now it’s
part of my lifestyle.”
Such changes are not, however, second nature to boomers who
grew up before doctors had discovered much of what is now
known about healthy lifestyles, Dubeck pointed out. They
never expected to live long enough for lifestyle to matter
Managing health also has gotten a lot more complicated in
recent decades, said Dr. Michael Walsh, a family doctor with
Adirondack Community Physicians. Many seniors end up with a
few chronic conditions, numerous medications and a whole
bunch of specialists, he said. And the role of patients has
changed, too, becoming much more collaborative.
“I think that they’re trying to make healthy choices,” Walsh
said. “I find that the patients are coming in with a lot
more information than they used to … but a lot of it can be
And in the end, finances in this difficult economy and the
logistics of home life, such as having to care for aging
parents, often prevent patients from making the best
choices. Some have diabetes that isn’t under control because
they can only afford to take their pills every other day, he
Others know they should be eating fruit, vegetables and
whole grains, but don’t.
“People eat what they can afford,” he said.
But the nuts and bolts of good health into the golden years
are essentially the same for everyone