How Health Habits Change With Age

Exploring the Healthy Living Activities People Practice

How Health Habits Change With Age

Exploring the Healthy Living Activities People Practice

By Editorial Staff
 

Younger generations have a reputation for their obsession with the latest health and fitness trends—whether it's boutique fitness or diet detoxes. To Millennials in particular, the word "healthy" extends beyond the idea of simply not getting sick. But is this generation, in fact, the healthiest generation? We polled over 1,000 people between the ages of 21 and 73 about their habits and the way they treat their bodies. The results reveal strong generational distinctions in attitudes about health as well as habits.

It turns out that generations could learn a lot from each other. Read on to learn how each generation approaches wellness. Millennials, Generation X or Boomers each have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their stay-well routines.

Which Generation Has the Healthiest Habits?

First, our study explored which healthy habits each generation has adopted with the most enthusiasm.

Percentage of people practicing each habit at least once a week

The most common rituals people follow to maintain their wellness included exercising regularly (71%), avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption (67%) and taking vitamins or supplements (66%). Among the three most common activities, Millennials were the least likely generation to engage in these healthy habits. Instead, Generation X Americans (73%) were the most likely to confirm working out "regularly–defined as once a week–while Baby Boomers were the most likely generation to acknowledge avoiding or limiting alcohol (71%).

Gen Xers and Boomers found common ground when it came to taking vitamins and supplements; they tied at 70%, surpassing Millennials by 10 whole percentage points. Research suggests that younger health seekers should try to emulate this habit. Studies on immune support show that immunity is innately linked to nutritional factors and that supplementation of identified vitamins—A, B6, B12, C, D, zinc and iron to name a few—are safe, inexpensive and effective ways to fend off illness.

But there are other important health habits where Millennials are taking the lead. Survey respondents born in the 80s and 90s were most likely to acknowledge limiting portion sizes (36%), limiting dairy intake (27%), eating a vegetarian diet (16%), eating a vegan diet (9%) and most substantially, getting eight hours or more of sleep every night (44%). A recent surge in sleep studies has confirmed what many experts claimed for years—that getting adequate sleep on a consistent basis may be one of the most important things we do for our overall wellness, regardless of age.

What's the Right Age to Prioritize Health?

These differences in health habits beg the question: when should someone prioritize being healthy over other life goals? Can we choose to be carefree in our youth and then focus on wellness as our bodies age? Across generations, the majority of people (51%) agree that people should always focus on wellness. But whether they apply this principle to their own behaviors is another story.

The age of health

Across the generations, less than a quarter of respondents said they "very much" prioritize their health: just 21% of Millennials and Boomers fit into this health buff category, followed by 20% of Gen Xers. Around the same number of respondents fell on the other side of the spectrum, only prioritizing their health a little bit. Instead, it was more common for people to somewhat focus on their wellness.

Our survey also revealed that some healthy habits start at a young age while others take longer to establish. People who adopted a vegetarian diet started before turning 24 years old, on average, which is also the average age when people tend to start working out. Meanwhile, survey respondents reported that they began taking vitamins and supplements at age 27, but waited until they were in their 30s to limit portion size, sugar intake and to start taking probiotics.

Percentage prioritizing their career over health by generation

So, what are people prioritizing, if it's not their wellness? Health is playing second fiddle to career, particularly among people whose careers are just getting off the ground—about one-third of Millennials will skimp on health to focus on their jobs, followed by 19% of Generation Xers. At retirement age, though, only 8% of Boomers are still more focused on their professional success than their wellness. Ironically, these younger members of the workforce might see better cognitive performance by taking a more proactive approach to their wellness. Exercising and sleeping more often, as well as reducing refined sugar intake, are behaviors that have been linked to improved mental focus.

Health Goals Over the Next Five Years

No matter how healthy you feel right now, there's always room for improvement. Across multiple generations, most respondents had similar goals for seeking a healthier tomorrow.

The top habits people want to start in the next 5 years

Getting enough sleep and eating healthier were universal goals. Older respondents had more restrictive ambitions, however. While 21% of Millennials and Gen Xers identified wanting to limit sugar in their diets, their older counterparts took a stricter stance: 16% of Boomers aim to avoid sugar altogether. As one of the leading contributors to cardiovascular disease, too much added sugar in your diet can be one of the unhealthiest (and most difficult) habits to break.

Roughly 1 in 5 millennials said they want to eat sufficient fiber and start meditating some point in the next five years; these were not top goals for older Americans.

Where Do Different Generations Get Their Health Advice?

One of the biggest distinctions we found in our survey was where people of different ages find expertise about health and wellness. Millennials reported trusting the internet more than they trust doctors, and also had more trust in friends and other people they know than older respondents.

Who people consult on questions related to aging

Across all respondents, 66% percent of people turned to their doctors or other medical providers for advice on aging, followed by the internet (61%), family members (36%) and friends (32%). Trust in friends' knowledge decreased with age, and Gen X exhibited the greatest distrust of health information coming from any source, with 12% of respondents in this age group saying they trust "no one."

Eliminating the Aging Gap

Different generations may have different perspectives on aging, but respondents of all ages were interested in embracing behaviors that would contribute to a richer, longer life. As more than half of Americans told us, there's no specific age where taking care of yourself and focusing on your health and wellness should become a priority.

At Life Extension, we're committed to the science of a healthier life. With a focus on every stage of life, our diet and lifestyle advice is backed by leading scientific research—so you know you're getting personalized, scientifically-validated wellness support.

Methodology and Limitations

Using the Amazon Mechanical Turk service, we were able to survey 1,003 Americans about their health habits.

We had 498 women, 501 men and three nonbinary respondents complete our survey.

There were 215 baby boomers, 387 Generation Xers and 401 millennials that made up our survey. The average age of all of our respondents was 43 years old with a standard deviation of 12.37.

For any question related to a specific age, all outliers were removed based on the 5th and 95th percentile of answers.

As with many surveys, there are limitations to this one and the results presented. This study relies on self-reporting, which could result in respondents over or underestimating their results.

The data presented in this study has not been weighted.

Fair Use Statement

There's no age bias here. We welcome the sharing of this data with your readers for any noncommercial use with the addition of a link back to this page in your story so they have full visibility to our findings and methodology.