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Our road to disaster

“You are not leaving this table until you eat your vegetables!”

How many baby boomers recall that stern message from Mom at dinnertime? She was adamant her kids would grow up healthy.

But once many boomers left home, caution was thrown to the wind, according to a recent study by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation.

The foundation warns “that without immediate action, baby boomers may spend their last years in sickness, disability and immobility.”

Those of us born between 1947 to 1966 have big aspirations today for the golden years: travelling, spoiling grandchildren and generally enjoying the freedom that retirement should bring.

They take comfort in the fact Statistics Canada says Canadians are living longer. But StatsCan also reports there’s a 10-year gap in how long we live and how long we live in health. “The gap is mainly due to heart disease, stroke and other chronic conditions,” says the study.

And while a poll conducted online by Leger Marketing among 800 Canadian boomers shows 80 per cent believe they are healthy, the foundation study begs to differ.

If the boomers want to let the good times roll, they should start adhering again to the wise rules of Mom at the dinner table — starting with the veggies.

The study found that 85 per cent of boomers were not eating enough vegetables and fruit, more than 40 per cent are slacking off on exercise, one in five smoke and one in 10 drink heavily. Further, a shocking 74 per cent don’t know they can reduce risk of heart disease and stroke by up to 80 per cent with lifestyle modifications.

One hardly envisions spending the retirement years sickly and disabled, but that’s the road the wheelchair is heading for the boomers.

“The lifestyle choices that Canadian boomers are making directly contribute to living the last 10 years of their lives in sickness. This should cause boomers a lot of concern,” says foundation spokesperson Dr. Beth Abramson.

But it’s not too late, according to the doctor. “The good news is that if lifestyle changes are made now, many Canadians can considerably reduce the effects of heart disease and stroke,” said Abramson. “It is possible for us to take charge of our heart health, reduce hospitalizations and immobility, by significantly improving the quality of life.”

Leading to their golden years, boomers often engaged in “trendy activities” such as squash, racquet ball, jogging visits to the gym and cleansing their body through seemingly bizarre diets. When the trendy stuff waned, many unlaced the gym shoes, tired of the diets, then let the good times roll — taking comfort in the misguided notion that past healthy activities would cruise them through retirement in good health.

“We typically think teenagers are the ones who live like they’re invincible, but boomers seem to forget their mortality too,” says David Sculthorpe, CEO for the Canadian Heart and Stoke Foundation. “In order to take full advantage of life and make health last, Canadians need to take action — it’s their time to decide if they’ll grow old with vitality, or get old with disease.”

To address these concerns, the foundation is launching a program called Make Health Last to help Canadians enjoy their later years in good health. Make Health Last can be found at

The link to the report on the study is at

It’s a real eye-opener.

“To make death wait, as we asked Canadians to do last year, is not enough,” says Abramson. “We also need to make health last to have the lives we want to live.”

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.



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