By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Not surprisingly, members of Generation X – that “sandwich generation” between the famous baby boomers and equally notorious millennials – desire long, healthy lives. However, recent surveys on the health habits of Gen-Xers reveal that the majority of Gen-Xers are too busy to practice healthy lifestyle habits and rarely visit their doctors.
What Generation Am I?
Ever since the baby boomers were named by the U.S. Census Bureau, each generation of Americans in the 20th century has had its own name. If you’re wondering what generation you actually fall into, here are some basic divisions:
- Baby Boomers –Born between the mid-1940s and the early 1960s.
- Generation X – Born between 1965 and the early 1980s.
- Millenials – Also known as Generation Y, millennials were born (to either Boomers or Gen X-ers) between the early 1980s and the early 2,000s.
In general, Generation X refers to busy midlife people who may be taking care of aging parents while raising children of their own. Though not true “digital natives” — those are the millennials — Gen Xers are tech-savvy and independent, and those traits spill over into their attitudes toward health care.
According to a recent health and longevity survey, members of Generation X want to live to be 90 or 100 – but they’re skipping important steps that could help them attain those ages.
The researchers reported: “Two out of three Gen Xers admit they could be doing a better job of exercising regularly (67 percent), eating well (66 percent), maintaining a healthy weight (63 percent) and managing stress (66 percent).”
About one in three Gen Xers surveyed also said that they avoided going to doctors. Their reasons for skipping annual exams and other visits to the doc varied, but there were a few key factors…
Fear of Getting Bad News
Fear of hearing bad news led the list of reasons Gen Xers reportedly don’t go to doctors, even if they do have a health problem. That goes along with other reasons people tend to fear doctor visits, such as the possibility of painful tests, or having to reveal embarrassing personal information. And hey, I get it – lots of times tests are unnecessary and doctors are not always correct in their diagnoses. But when tests and visits are avoided entirely, it’s like a game of craps – you’re rolling the dice with your health. I can say for sure that if problems are caught early, it’s much easier to treat them. Facing those fears is a big step toward taking better care of your health.
Only 55 percent of Gen Xers reported having an annual exam within the last 5 years. Look – people under 50 probably don’t need to get an annual exam every year, but going more than 4 or 5 years without one can push the envelope of risk. Uncontrolled high blood pressure, for example, which strikes young and old alike, is the number one risk factor for stroke and heart attack – you’ve got to know your blood pressure numbers! And if you’ve got a family history of heart disease, especially at an early age, you need to discuss it with your doctor and get some tests done.
For people with a family history of early heart disease, I suggest getting specific bloodwork and other heart-health tests at age 30; for everyone else, I suggest these same tests starting at age 50.
It’s Too Expensive
For very legitimate reasons, the sandwich generation could also be called the worried generation. Many people in their late 30s to mid-50s have experienced several economic downturns, including the massive housing crash and recession of 2008. For generation X, employment is not something to take for granted. Gen Xers may also be in considerable debt, due to mortgages, cars, student loans, and other expenditures.
For many Gen Xers, there’s no room in the budget for health insurance. Too “affluent” for Medicaid and often not given coverage at work, many in Generation X must pay health-related expenses on their own. And, as we all know, healthcare in America is not cheap. It’s easy to see how general preventive care such as annual exams and standard screenings could be perceived as a luxury, not a necessity.
If health insurance is out of reach, it might be time to create your own health emergency fund in a special bank account or comparison shop for the services you need – yes, you can ask upfront how much a procedure or test will cost. And those costs can vary greatly among hospitals and clinics.
Most importantly, take care of yourself. Recognize that financial and other worries can impact your health – stress is one of the primary reasons people visit doctors, so managing it effectively through practices like yoga, meditation, grounding and exercise can help you stay healthy.
If It Ain’t Broke, Why Take the Time to Fix It?
Most members of Generation X say they know it’s important to do basic healthy things such as exercise more, reduce stress and switch to a healthier diet — but these things take time and energy that busy people simply don’t feel they have. And while most are aware that healthy lifestyle habits can lay the foundation for good quality of life in old age, they don’t see the need to make them a priority in their daily life NOW.
Unfortunately, most of us never realize how precious our health is until we’ve lost it. And prevention is WAY easier than cure. Take my word for it here, make the switch to healthier, higher vibrational living – it’s like additional “insurance.” No more try, just do.
And I know seeing doctors for checkups to monitor things like blood pressure can be time-consuming. On average, a doctor visit can take about two hours out of a workday — more if specialists and sophisticated tests are involved. However, it’s essential to schedule for your health, whether it’s making time for exercise, yoga, shopping for healthy foods, or a checkup.
Online Go-To Sites Are the New Go-To Doctors
Like me, parents and grandparents of Generation X were raised with traditional attitudes toward doctors and health care: Get regular exams, establish a relationship with a primary care doctor, and follow that doctor’s orders. But for Generation X and the millennials who come after them, the world of health care is a very different place — a consumer marketplace where you can shop around for health care like any other commodity. Or not.
Gen Xers believe that their first line of prevention lies with them, not with doctors. I’m with Generation X on this one – people need to take responsibility for their health, and not rely on doctors to “fix” them. And rather than scheduling a doctor’s appointment for a minor issue, Gen Xers are more willing to research remedies on their own — or shop around for solutions.
I’m all for learning as much as you can about how to protect your health – it’s the reason I publish all the information on this web site. And doctors are not always right, so taking everything they say as Gospel can also be dangerous. My patients were often my best teachers, and any truly good doctor will be open to new ideas, even if the patient is “the messenger.” Doctors who can respect the different take Generation X has on the health care system will have a better chance of developing a long-term relationship with this group.
Understandably, the reluctance of Generation X to follow the traditional path to medical care may leave doctors frustrated — and mystified. But Gen Xers have very real reasons for skipping the doctor’s office, and it’s important for medical professionals to find ways to work with Gen Xers on them. Ultimately, I see this sign of the times as a great opportunity to elevate the doctor-patient relationship to a doctor-patient “partnership.”
- Klemes A. “Gen X – The Time to Get Serious About Longevity Is Now.” MDVIP.com, Jan. 29, 2017.
- Gopal S. “Health Care Decisions By Generations: How Do Patients Differ?” Rendia.com, Nov. 6, 2014.
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