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Articles for Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers can do More to Improve Health, Experts Say


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 BlueCross BlueShield.

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 added.

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,” said Jones.

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.”

Making modifications

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 so much.

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 conflicting.”

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 said.

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

About the Author


By AMY NEFF ROTH. Copyright 2011 The Observer-Dispatch, Utica, New York. Some rights reserved.

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