I am technically not a Baby Boomer, but I am less than four years away from 50.
Everyone fears aging to a degree, even personal trainers. I have spent the last 15 years specializing in exercising with older adults and have gained some insights into the fears that the aging population faces. What sparked today’s column was when I answered a Linked In question asking what is the biggest fear facing Baby Boomers today? The answer I gave was loss of independence.
According to the History Channel’s web site (history.com), Baby Boomers account for 76 million people born between the years 1946-1964. However, older adults in general are considered age 50 and above by AARP. They are the fastest-growing population in this country and are flocking to gyms in greater numbers and they are taking a more active role in managing their health.
With aging comes many valid fears and concerns and their biggest is relying on others and not being able to do everything that they have been doing on their own. Loss of independence can include loss of financial stability, friendship, family and community losses and mental and physical health issues. All wrapped up in these fears are such issues as declining health, social security, Medicare and Alzheimer’s disease to name a few.
What can be done to allay these fears? I’ll focus on the health aspect. From an overall health standpoint there are many ways to stave off or manage declining health. While most of these apply to all populations, they are more essential as we age.
Keep active. I always recommend an established and consistent exercise plan about three times per week. If you are new to the gym, hire a professional who specializes with older adults to teach you what you need to know. If getting out of your home is difficult there are many personal trainers who will come to your house. Do as many of your daily activities on your own as you can — things like taking the stairs, carrying groceries, gardening, etc. Move more and as often as you can. The body hates immobility.
Eat well. Cover the basics and consume a combination of complex carbohydrates, lean protein and limited amounts of fat. Keep white products to a minimum such as salt, white flour, white rice and sugar. They have little nutritive value, can cause weight gain or lead to diabetes. If you are lacking in certain nutrients, check with your doctor on supplementation. Remember to stay well hydrated and consume plenty of water.
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is prevalent in every population including older adults. If you have excess weight, particularly around your mid-section, do what you can to lose it. Excess weight is associated with numerous health risks from increased risk of heart disease, stroke, lower back issues and knee and joint problems.
Regular health screenings. This is the most essential and covers several areas. Visit your doctor or practitioner once a year and have a managed care plan into place. Being pro-active and not waiting until sickness or disease occurs can make all the difference.
Be able to rely on a doctor who is fully versed on the health needs and fears associated with aging. Remember to include dental, vision and hearing as part of your regular check-up schedule. And be sure to find a competent pharmacist when taking all medications who can oversee and be aware of drug interactions. Also, remember to get regular skin cancer screenings and if mental health is a concern, ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health specialist.
Manage stress. I have talked in previous columns about what unmanaged stress can do to our mental and physical well-being. Too much stress can wreak havoc on the body and weigh heavily on our minds. Older adults have far more concerns and worries than most people. Surround yourself with a community and support network that can help allay your stress and eliminate or manage those areas that are causing you stress. Eating well and exercise are two proven ways to best alleviate stress. If stress can’t be managed seek out a professional who can help.
Tomorrow is promised to no one, but doing what one can today for your health will make tomorrow easier.