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Are Baby Boomers Turning into Dumplings?

The counterintuitive trend of the CounterCulture founders.

“I just came back from my 45th college reunion,“ my neighbor told me, “and to my amazement, my Baby Boomer classmates have now turned into dumplings. They are overweight, walk slowly, don’t seem to have much muscle, and more than a few had difficulty negotiating the uneven brick walkways. What happened to them?!?”

We went on to reminisce about how Baby Boomers made health clubs, yoga, Pilates, kick boxing, high-protein diets, tofu, vitamin supplements, and yogurt part of American mainstream culture and thereby changed how the country ate, exercised, listened to music, and dressed.

“So how is it that they (our contemporaries) are now softer versions of Humpty Dumpty?“ she asked. Yesterday they were wearing long hair, fringes, and beads. Now they wear medical alert bracelets announcing that they have diabetes or pacemakers, and I read they have a higher prevalence of obesity than other generations.”

The Baby Boomer generation, which has been at the forefront of many changes in the lifestyle of our country, may now be leading the way into the unfortunate consequences of too much bad eating and too little time devoted to exercise. Are they giving up their emphasis on youth, as in the mantra of many decades ago of, “Don’t trust anyone over 30?” Are they whose early years were spent in marches and rallies now thinking walkers and canes? Are they capitulating to the inevitability of getting old? As someone I know who just turned 65 told me, “Finally I can eat what I want and not worry about how I look. Why should I care about being thin?”

The good news and the bad news is that given the increasing longevity of their generation, Baby Boomers ought to reconsider turning themselves into versions of their grandparents. It is premature for them to give up on exercise (presuming they had been doing it all along) and to be complacent about their bad food choices. Unless they run into bad medical luck, they may live to 100 and, as George Burns said when he reached that age, ”If I knew I was going to live so long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

In all fairness, changes in lifestyle that occur as the Baby Boomers retire, or at least work less, may make it harder to avoid gaining weight. Moving from a multistory house to a single-story dwelling, opting for the elevator instead of taking the stairs, doing fewer household and outdoor chores? This amounts to using up fewer calories in the course of the day. Dependence on a car may increase even above what it was during earlier years, if they are moving to communities without easy public transportation or access to nearby shopping areas. Social interactions revolve around dinners and often lunches as well; if one wants to see friends it is usually over a restaurant table rather than on a walk. A couple with whom we are going to a local museum insisted that we make reservations at the museum restaurant for lunch, even though the alleged purpose of the trip was to see the art.

Recreational sports such as skiing, tennis, and biking are often abandoned as coordination and balance deteriorate, thereby making a fear of broken bones seem too much of a risk. Health clubs are, in general, not particularly geared to those who are old enough to be parents of most of the members. Many classes are unsuitable for bodies that may have some orthopedic limitations, and standards by which to measure baseline stamina and muscle strength are rarely applicable to those over age 50.

Perhaps it is time for the Baby Boomers to lead the way into improving the lifestyle of those 60 and over. It is time for them to insist that restaurants serve portion sizes compatible to diners with a somewhat sedentary life rather than suitable for a construction worker. They should compel changes in menus so vegetables are included with a main course rather than being an item for which there is an extra charge. Might they able to compel food manufacturers to increase fiber content outside of a few breakfast cereals? No one expects bagels to be enriched with bran and chopped prunes, but the food wizards in the country could come up with more options than Bran flakes and Fiber One bars.

It seems that it is also time for this forward-looking generation to demand that health clubs start including classes with music that does not increase their already compromised hearing loss, and with movements which will not ultimately require knee replacements. They should consider turning, “Dine and Discuss” book clubs into walking discussion groups, or put pressure on golf courses to allow players to walk the course rather than ride in a cart. And why not ask towns to make indoor pools for water aerobics as common as wading pools for toddlers?

Baby Boomers must stop accepting their potential status as dumplings and do what they are best at: seizing hold of their life and making changes that will benefit their health and the that of the generations to follow.