02/04/2013 12:00 EST | Updated 04/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Baby Boomers And Health: Want To Stay Healthy At An Old Age? Work Harder


TORONTO - Baby boomers may have dreams of spending their twilight years basking in the glow of good health, but a new poll suggests they'll have to work much harder to make that vision a reality.

The findings come in the Heart and Stroke Foundation's annual report on the health of Canadians, which opted to focus on the habits of one of the country's largest demographics.

The online survey found a noticeable disparity between people's perceptions of their own health and the reality of their medical situation.

While 80 per cent of survey respondents described themselves as healthy, the poll found details of the participants' health habits told a very different story.

Nearly 85 per cent of respondents did not eat the recommended number of fruits and vegetables per day, while more than 40 per cent fell short of ideal physical activity levels. A fifth of respondents described themselves as smokers, and 11 per cent suggested they were heavy drinkers.

Such habits, the Heart and Stroke Foundation said, are setting survey participants up for years of disappointment.

Cardiologist and foundation spokeswoman Dr. Beth Abramson said those who indulge in unhealthy behaviours now are ignoring the fact that long life is not always equated with good health.

People often live up to 10 years beyond the time their health has deteriorated, she said, adding that final decade is often spent in discomfort and dissatisfaction.

"We're in an era where we have better treatments and medications for acute, sudden problems, but we're living with chronic diseases," Abramson said in a telephone interview. "We want to have healthy quality of life in the long run, and it is under our control. We can make the decisions to make health last."

Exercising that control should be a high priority for the majority of survey respondents, the poll suggested. About 61 per cent of participants said quality of life mattered more to them than longevity, adding they had plans to spend their final years travelling, enjoying their grandchildren and exploring new hobbies.

To bring these hopes to fruition, Abramson said they'll need to take action.

Many of the most effective steps people can take to protect their health are the stuff of common sense recommendations from a routine checkup, Abramson said, adding Canadians should make every effort to step up their fruit and vegetable intake and reduce their consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.

Most Canadians could also benefit from increasing their amount of exercise, she said, stressing that need not involve gym memberships or taxing workout regimens.

Using stairwells in public buildings, working brisk walks into a daily routine and simple household chores are all effective ways to reach the recommended 150 minutes a week of physical activity, she said.

Brian Campkin, 52, discovered first-hand the value of such incremental changes.

His weekly tennis game was interrupted one day by shortness of breath which doctors ultimately determined was a symptom of heart disease.

The discovery of three blockages requiring a triple bypass shocked Campkin, who believed his regular exercise regime and cigarette-free lifestyle would have shielded him from such a serious health scare.

"It was relatively healthy, but sometimes you need to take some sandpaper to some rough edges," Campkin said.

For Campkin, the focus soon shifted to a diet that fell short of fruit and vegetable recommendations while not always being mindful of portion control.

Six years later, Campkin believes such changes are instrumental in his 20-pound weight loss and renewed confidence that he'll be on hand to walk his daughters down the aisle and welcome his grandchildren into the world.

"It's those small baby steps over a period of time that can lead to the success you need to gather for yourself," he said.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation poll was conducted online by Leger Marketing among 800 Canadian baby boomers _ born between 1947 and 1966 _ in November 2012. The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.