Sunday, August 7, 2011

Following the Sherman Tank Generation

“The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Lately, I’ve noticed that I’m getting older. Not mentally, mind you. I'm still the same immature, Jersey girl I’ve always been. No. Mother Nature is tapping my shoulder on the physical plane.

I trimmed the hedges last week and my thumb is still swollen. I tripped on a phone cord, landed on my knee and it still hurts several weeks later. My ankles are permanently swollen; I have no idea why. When I was younger, any damage I did to myself cleared up in a day or two. Now it lingers and sometimes takes up permanent residence.

How did this happen? 

My mother is 29 years older than me and is built like a Sherman Tank. Nothing can stop her and she feels just fine. My generation seems a bit wimpier than hers. I had lunch with some old high school chums recently and the focus of much of our conversation revolved around our physical maladies and how we were coping with them. We sounded like my late grandmother did when she was in her eighties.

“There's one advantage to being 102. There's no peer pressure.” —Dennis Wolfberg

This is not just my imagination. According to a study by the University of California (UC), which oddly enough was carried in the UK Daily Mail, today's Baby Boomers are the first modern generation to be less healthy than their immediate predecessors. Despite improvements in medicine and standards of living, we are more likely to be blighted by health problems, from aching knees and hips to diabetes, asthma and strokes.

Technology: friend or foe?
This may be due to fast food, lack of exercise and a growing reliance on computers and other technology. It does not bode well that the U.S has the fattest population in the developed world. Apparently, two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and those extra pounds make joints wear out more quickly, boost cholesterol and blood pressure, and raise the risk of a host of other debilitating health problems. Even if they aren't overweight, Baby Boomers tend to be less physically active than their parents and grandparents. Their daily routines are often dominated by desk jobs and commuting, both of which involve a lot of sitting.

The UC study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, compared the health of thousands of men and women in their 60s, 70s and 80s with data on different people of the same age collected ten years earlier, and here’s what it found:
  • One in five people in their 60s need help with basic day-to-day activities—up more than 50 percent from a decade earlier
  • People over 60 years of age are 70 percent more likely to have difficulty walking from room to room, getting in and out of bed, and eating or dressing than the same age group 10 years ago 
  • Finally, the over-60 group was 50 percent more likely to have trouble walking a quarter of a mile or climbing ten steps without a rest. Stooping, crouching, kneeling and getting up from a chair proved 40 percent more troublesome (that's right, folks, no more Russian kick dancing for us!)
“The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.”—H.L. Mencken

The UC study draws some dark conclusions:
  • The growing number of individuals aged 60 and older will place ever-growing demands on the health care system
  • Increased levels of disability, particularly among the youngest of older adults, may also negatively affect economic productivity (ready those mobile scooters; MY generation can't afford to retire)
  • Younger people could also lose out if they have to compete with older people for scarce resources in an overburdened health care system (move over, kids, those are OUR respirators)
My mother: 85 years young and going strong.
Cary Cooper, professor of health psychology at Lancaster University in the UK, believes that our ever-growing reliance on technology is harming our health. (Spoil-sport!) He warns that the impact will be even greater in years to come, with the retirees of the future having spent many more years sitting in front of a computer than those of today. His advice is simple: Be active.

Ironically, some "advances" in health care could be contributing to this backward trend.

“We have been lulled into a false sense of security that pharmaceuticals are the answer to our health problems,” says Dr. Ian Campbell, a general practitioner and medical director of the charity, Weight Concern. “So we get statistics saying that the number of deaths from heart disease is falling but that is because we are keeping people alive with drugs. That is admirable but it would be far better if we could cut the amount of heart disease in the first place.” Keep people healthy rather than drugging them up over a prolonged period of time to cope with chronic symptoms? Lousy business model.

So let's get this straight. We are living longer, but we are doing so based, not on good health, but on life-extending pharmaceuticals. Rather than maintaining good health through lifestyle, we eat bad food and spurn exercise with the assumption that all problems can be solved by popping a pill. We may not feel all that great, but we are being kept alive, which improves the mortality statistics and gives us a false sense of progress.

While science may have provided us with longevity, past generations had a better quality of life. Why? Simple. They ate unprocessed foods (sans genetically modified organisms) and got up off their duffs and did something.

No comments:

Post a Comment