Canadian baby boomers unhealthy and headed for illness: report

Shine On

Canadian Baby Boomers think they are far healthier than they actually are.

Those are the findings of a new 2013 health report card from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The report found that 80 per cent of Canadian Boomers believe their doctor would clear them as healthy, despite the fact that many have poor eating habits, smoke, drink excessively and exercise rarely.

“It’s not clear why exactly there is a gap in self-perception,” says Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Beth Abramson.

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A cardiologist at St. Mike’s Hospital in Toronto and the author of a new book titled Heart Health for Canadians, the Definitive Guide, Abramson hypothesizes that there may be a sense of entitlement with boomers.

“It's common that baby boomers talk the talk but don't walk the walk,” says Abramson. “They know what to do, they just don't do it.”

Abramson and the Heart and Stroke Foundation hope that the report, titled “Reality Check”, will serve as a wakeup call for this aging generation, many of whom will live out their final years in illness if they don’t make immediate lifestyle changes.

The report found that baby boomers have big dreams for their golden years like travelling, looking after grandchildren, being active around the house, enjoying hobbies and even working.

“The reality is that these dreams will not be fulfilled unless we take action now to considerably reduce the effects of heart disease and stroke,” says Abramson. “It is possible for us to take charge of our heart health, reduce hospitalizations and immobility, significantly improving the quality of our lives.”

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Some of the bad habits of the Boomers: 85 per cent report not eating enough fruits and vegetables, more than 40 per cent don’t get enough physical activity, 21 per cent smoke, 11 per cent are heavy drinkers, and 30 per cent say they are “often or always” stressed.

Factors like these contribute to the so-called "10-year gap", the decade-long time span between how long we live and how long we live while still being healthy.

According to the report, physical inactivity results in close to four years of quality life lost, a poor diet can equal three years, stress can cost two years, smoking can cost two years, and excessive drinking can cost two full years.

It’s a generation at risk, but it’s not just the Boomers that need to shape up.

Nine out of 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and almost 40 per cent of Canadians have three or more risk factors.

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While that’s the bad news, the good news is that Boomers (and everyone else) can reduce the risk of heart and stroke by making simple lifestyle changes.

Increasing exercise can be as simply as gardening, play time with the grandkids, or choosing the stairs over the elevator, according to the report. It also recommends 150 minutes of “moderate to vigorous” exercise a week.

Simple tips for improving diet include keeping a food diary, eating out less, consuming smaller portions, adding more veggies and fruits, and going easy on the sugary beverages.

And smoking and drinking are two obvious risks that have a simple but challenging remedy — quit or cut back.