updated 1/19/2007 7:22:25 PM ET 2007-01-20T00:22:25

Some baby boomers do a great job of taking care of their bodies and minds. They watch what they eat, exercise regularly and follow the latest health findings.

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Then there are the other boomers — the ones working incredibly long hours, too tired to hit the gym or whip up a healthy meal. Squeezed between taking care of their growing children as well as their aging parents, they know what they’re supposed to do to lead healthy lives.

They just don't do it.

Boomers' lifestyle choices leading to health problems
According to a 2005 study by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, obesity rates substantially grew for baby boomers (those born from 1946 to 1965), compared with the generation before them. When members of the prior generation were 35 to 44 years old, 14 percent to 18 percent were obese. At comparable ages, 28 percent to 32 percent of the youngest boomers were obese.

What’s more, even when boomers' behavior and choices lead to serious problems, their health may still not come first. According to data from Internet survey provider Greenfield Online of 1,000 people ages 42 to 60 years old who’d been previously diagnosed with hypertension, only 24 percent said the condition motivated them to change their lifestyles.

Doctors and experts on boomers say there are some common mistakes men and women of this generation tend to make when it comes to their well being. Giving these areas a little attention now could make all the difference in their ability to enjoy hard-earned retirements.

For instance, many boomers have a knack for being overly optimistic about everything from finances to their health, says Carol Orsborn, co-author of "Boom: Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer — the Baby-Boomer Woman."

“There was a sense when we were in our formative years that every problem was going to be soon solved by science,” Orsborn says. “Even if we don’t have the answer yet, we think we’re going to have it soon.”

As a result, when it comes to making decisions about their health, boomers sometimes think that if they delay doing something, a better solution might come along. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who hop on the Internet to learn everything about their symptoms and possible treatments, thinking they can out-research their doctors or find the latest alternative cure. Either way they end up putting off taking action.

“They might do a lot better if they just changed their diets, but they’re more likely to look for miracles,” Orsborn says.

Simple changes can mean a big difference
With people now fully aware they're expected to live into their 90s and even 100s, simple changes in what boomers eat and how they think can affect the quality of the later years.

Making an effort to add more fruits, vegetables and lean meats to one’s plate will not only help boomers trim the fat, but also could help them fight diseases that may develop in old age, says Dr. Marie A. Bernard, professor and chair of the department of geriatric medicine at the University of Oklahoma.

“It will certainly leave you at a baseline higher level of fitness,” says Bernard, also a member of the senior health center staff at OU Physicians group.

Making specific plans for life postretirement can play a big role in maintenance of blood flow to the brain too, which helps keeps boomers alert. Studies of retired people who sat around and did nothing versus those who went on to do something new showed the latter group did better at maintaining vitality, Bernard says.

Being physically active and getting involved in projects and hobbies that excite us are more important than we realize.

“Retirement is not necessarily a good thing,” adds Dr. Robert Butler, CEO of the International Longevity Center, a not-for-profit, nonpartisan research, policy and education organization. “In general, people need to have some sense of purpose. Those individuals that have goals live longer and better lives.”

Bernard says she frequently hears patients say they wish they'd treated their bodies better when they were younger. She tells them it's not too late to turn things around. Studies have shown that 90-year-olds who started regularly lifting weights as small as a half pound were able to build muscle strength and become more active, Bernard says. Imagine how much progress a 50-year-old could make.

The key is taking it slow.

“Pick one thing you want to address and give yourself time to succeed before moving onto the next thing,” she says. “It is never too late.”

© 2012


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