The 21st century is rapidly evolving into a complex and interconnected world. The speed of change is accelerating and information overload is commonplace. Stress levels are high as a result of on-going violence both at home and abroad. The health of America is in serious decline due to an obesity crisis that seems to worsen with each passing day and more people than ever before live a sedentary life. Access to on-going and affordable health care is still a challenge. Families often experience that feeding their children a healthy diet is not an easy task leading to the increase in chronic diseases such as high cholesterol, early onset diabetes, and other preventable conditions.
The other major challenge that America is facing as a nation is the advent of the aging population beginning with the 80 million baby boomers who will be turning 65 in the next 20 years creating a society that will have to be prepared to address the longer life spans we are now enjoying while at the same time becoming equipped to handle the many medical, physical, psychological, and related challenges that go with the aging process. The future holds much promise but at the same time poses many unknown – and unanswered – questions.
This article is my attempt to identify some of the challenges that America is facing today, raise some important questions while identifying some possible solutions before it is too late.
1. The Aging Population
While many people are excited about the potential of living longer and being able to enjoy the “fruits of their labor” over a greater span of time, the reality is that living longer does not guarantee a good quality of life. I have this concern even though I have just celebrated my 69th birthday and I am in excellent physical condition. I look at my own future with a fair amount of optimism because I have been taking good care of my own health and fitness needs over the years, but I am fully aware that in order to continue to enjoy this stage of my life, I have to continue to look after my physical being. As a healthy raging specialist, I am able to prepare for a fulfilling and rewarding future.
However, many of my generation – the “baby boomers” – have not been as fortunate as myself. The onset of debilitating physical issues such as joint damage, organ diseases, lack of proper medical care and related emotional and/or mental concerns, have made the prospect of living longer not so appealing to many who are currently facing health issues. Millions of Americans in the aging population have had to undergo heart bypass surgery, joint replacement surgery or are on multiple medications (which are fast rising in cost and overwhelming many with astronomical bills every year) while at the same time having to deal with chronic diseases such as diabetes (also on the increase) and high blood pressure or other conditions requiring on-going and expensive treatment.
The $3.5 trillion healthcare bill will be dramatically higher and unless this issue is accurately “diagnosed” now – or as near to now as we can get – we will be unable to handle the “flood” of people seeking care in the near future. This is one of the key issues of our times because I have seen it firsthand through my training activities with clients.
2. The Obesity Crisis
2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese. The number of obese people is increasing even faster and now is greater than the overweight population. The magnitude of this challenge is enormous to say the least and even within the fitness profession there is on-going discussion about what to do to stop the numbers from getting even higher. It is a complex problem reaching across all levels of society and all socio-economic groups.
Everyone is possibly a candidate to enter the ranks of the obese just because we are sitting more than ever before and eating mostly all the wrong foods in greater and greater quantities. The notion of “nutrient dense, calorie deficient” foods being a daily part of our diet has long been an issue and now we are consumers of far more foods devoid of nutrients than ever before. I also believe that America is sitting its way to ill health and will in a very short number of years be paying a huge price for the stress and sedentary issues that come with being inactive all day.
But what happened? Technology in all its forms is taking us out of what was once an active and happy life. People are literally “tied” to their devices and spend an inordinate amount of time each day engaged in “finding, spending, and living” on the internet. This is a challenge for which there is no easy solution but the fact of the matter is that the more engaged we are in living in what I call “the virtual world” the more likely we are to become even further detached from our own life in the real world – living not in the present where our choices have real power – but in a “made up future” where people live out their fantasies and dreams with no thought of the effects of this lifestyle on the future. I have no answer for this dilemma and it will take a “village” of very smart people to address it realistically – and effectively.
Finally, the last major issue I envision going forward is the challenge of raising our children in a world filled with violence, uncertainty, insecurity, ill health and living in families that are mostly struggling to create a stable, healthy and safe life for their children. How will they be encouraged and supported to become physically active, curious, courageous and willing to accept the challenges of the 21st century when their parents are overworked and stressed to the breaking point?
This is a huge issue and captures (for me) the true essence of the “real” danger of ignoring America’s health needs today. We are facing greater numbers of sick, medicated, stressed, confused, and frustrated people than we ever have before in our history and this is affecting the health of our children as well. My grandson is bright and funny and immensely talented and creative but let’s face it – the school system and teachers are often overwhelmed with the many difficulties brought to them each day in the classrooms all across America. What do we do to support them and help all of us succeed?
My childhood on Maui in the 40’s and 50’s seems like it existed in another time and in another world altogether. The family (its very structure and traditional strength), the children and our schools are very important to solving the crisis of the 21st century: the lack of a healthy life. I want a healthy life for all of us but is each of us we willing to pay the price to access it now – and in the future?
We need to answer this important question if we are to move into a better future where people can “grow into becoming who they want to be” – free of physical disabilities and illnesses, of medication, of surgeries and so much more. I define fitness as being “able to do what I want, when I want, without injury” and so far I have been blessed to be able to live this way. What will I say to my grandson if he can’t do the same? I can’t let that day come. What will you do? Only you can answer that question!
For more advice on healthy aging, you can contact Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.