If you’re in the Baby Boomer age group (49+), you ‘came of age’ in a unique period of time when many manufacturing innovations and societal changes came about. Most of you have an adventuresome, visionary spirit and want to stay youthful, active and healthy well into your old age. Yet, statistics show that 7 out of 10 Boomers are overweight with a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, dementia, hypertension, cataracts, sexual dysfunction and many other age-related ailments. In a generation that’s so youth-and health oriented, why are many Baby Boomers plagued by these age-related ailments? The answer to that question has to do with the nutritional lifestyle of a large number of Baby Boomers. I’d like to explain to you what that means and how you can change it to benefit you the most.
Baby Boomer Nutrition: The Best Strategy for Good Health
The Baby Boomer generation is the first to change the perception of ‘aging’. In 2013, people aged 50 and over are not viewed as being “old” the way people the same age a generation ago. Today, 50-plus people look younger, are more active and healthier, than their predecessors. Television commercials even reflect the trend showing a youthful woman, age 63, walking briskly in the forest talking about how she has a ‘nice long life ahead and big plans’. Even an old mantra – life begins at 40 – has been amended to ’60 is the new 40’. As a doctor, I also see real evidence of the change in my own patients. They increasingly are aging much more slowly and continuing to stay youthful looking, and acting, as they get older.
So, many Baby Boomers are expecting, and forecasted, to live well into their 90’s to 100’s! That’s great news. If you’re a Boomer, to really get to 100, however, you may need to make a few changes to some of your nutritional practices that you likely grew up with. Here’s why…
Innovations in the food industry that occurred in the Baby Boomer lifetime resulted in more packaged, processed, and “franken” foods. Unlike the generation before them whose diets contained more fresh foods, many of whom are living to their 100’s, Baby Boomers grew up eating a lot of packaged and processed foods that typically contained more sugar and salt per serving than is healthy. Transfats, not so healthy preservatives (sodium nitrite, et al) and sugar-substitutes (saccharin, aspartame, et al) were also created and put into a lot of the packaged/processed foods Boomers ate as children through adulthood. In short, Boomers grew up consuming a lot of bad fats, too much sugar and salt for good health and some fairly toxic preservatives and chemical sweeteners. Then, as Baby Boomers got older, genetically modified foods, or “frankenfoods”, started to enter the food chain that all of us have probably consumed to a degree. Today, in 2013, we now know that all these “fake” foods, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, may be good for shelf life and the food industry but are not so healthy for us. Many people, including Boomers, are now moving away from consuming these food “innovations”.
So, now, how do Baby Boomers fix their not so healthy nutritional practices of the past and focus on decreasing their risks of age-related disease, staying youthful, active, and healthy to celebrate their 100th birthday? Many nutritionists recommend physicians get involved in advising aging patients on good nutritional habits but you don’t have to wait for your doctor to advise you. Here’s the best Boomer nutritional strategy that you can adopt now.
1. Watch calories/increase activity. Metabolism slows down with age and you can gain weight more quickly if you’re not exercising enough. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day so don’t skimp on the nutrition. Include protein, good carbs (fruits and vegetables) and a slow carb (whole wheat bread, or oatmeal). Pare down meals throughout the day while still making sure the nutrition is sound. Avoid bad carbs (white foods like white bread, white potatoes, white rice) and watch portion sizes. Get 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week.
2. Go fresh more often. Even though you may have grown up on packaged/processed foods, try to go fresh more often. Your wallet will love you for it as well as your heart and pancreas. Packaged foods contain a lot of added sugar which can help create type-2 diabetes. They also contain too much salt which can aggravate/create high blood pressure. Read labels, aim for less than 5 grams of sugar per serving, and less than 100 mg sodium per serving. Nutritionists recommend Boomers aim for 9 servings of fresh vegetables and fruits (organic if possible) daily.
3. Focus on nutritional needs. Boomers need sufficient Omega-3’s to fight inflammation and preserve overall health (specifically joint, brain, heart and eye health); also vitamin B12 – after age 40, synthesis of B12 in the human gut slows down. You need more to get enough for good brain function and energy levels. 400 mcg a day through foods, supplements, or injections is recommended. Calcium– maintaining bone health is critical to over 50 people to prevent debilitating fractures of the hip, wrists and forearms. Get sufficient calcium via your foods throughout the day and/or supplements – aim for 1,200-1500 mg daily in one-third (333-500 mg) divided doses. Protein – is necessary to preserve muscle strength and bone health. Over 50, you can start to lose 1% to 2% of muscle mass if you don’t exercise enough or eat enough protein. Strong, dense muscles stimulate bone growth. Aim for 0.75 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. Use protein powder supplements to protein-boost your foods. Do weight training 3 times a week.
Ironically, Baby Boomers were the generation that created the “anti-aging” fitness movement, but they’re also the generation that are plagued with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other age-related illnesses. Cleaning up the nutritional indiscretions of the past and focusing on building your good health today, can help you stay youthful, active and healthy all the way to 100 and maybe even beyond! Like that Boomer-age lady in the commercial says, “I’ve got big plans for my future”, you can too!