Ask Stew: The State of Generation X (born 1965-1981)

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A non-commissioned officer works out in Baghdad.
Staff Sgt. Dimas Estrada, 10th Mountain Division air missile defense non-commissioned officer in charge and Phoenix native, does push-ups during interval circuit training he conducted in the Multi-National Division-Center Headquarters gym in Baghdad, Jan. 7, 2009. (Courtesy photo of Multi-National Division-Central)

A recent question prompted some research on the generations serving in the military and how the health of a generation affects recruiting practices and eligible numbers of qualified applicants.

For a few decades now, our health as a nation has been declining to a point where the main issue with recruitment of military members is no longer a high school education or criminal record. It's the height and weight standards of the average recruiting-age American.

The trend started in the 1990s and has been on a continual downslide since then. In 1990, obesity rates were at 15%. In 2010, obesity rates were roughly 25%. Today, the obesity numbers are pushing 36%. This data does not consider the overweight numbers, which are at 69%, but there is always some debate on whether being overweight is determined by Body Mass Index (BMI).

Regardless, you cannot argue with obesity numbers increasing steadily for nearly 30 years. The question this week was asked by a member of the Millennial generation:

Stew -- it seems like the Millennials are getting a bad rap these days. What generation is the worst? I ask because every "old guy" who gives me a hard time for being my current age is out of shape and overweight. What gives?

That is a funny question, with a nice dig as well. I have no issues with the Millennial Generation, and here is why. Within the military, the Millennial Generation as well as the latter half of Generation X have only seen war. There were few peacetime deployments, even for the youngest Gen X or the oldest Millennial.

In my mind, the military Gen Xers and Millennials may be the next Greatest Generation if you can stereotype 1% of your generation and call them the "Next Greatest."

The Millennials, aka Generation Y, are categorized as being born between 1982 and 2004. The group of people to which you likely are referring is my generation -- Generation X, born between 1965 and 1981. The newest generation is being dubbed as Centennials, aka Gen Z or iGen, born since 2005.

So what generation is the worst?

If you consider the people still serving in the military or are of military age, both Gen X and Millennials make up the bulk of the military with the Baby Boomer Generation at the highest ranks of officer and enlisted. To answer this question properly, I found Dr. Keith Kantor, a retired Marine Corps officer who has written about and discussed this topic frequently.

He agrees with you, and according to him and the research he references, Gen X needs the most help. I would say that answers your question to a degree, but the remainder of the post will focus on getting healthier for Generation X.

Getting an older generation to stop making fun of the younger generation is not going to happen, so get used to that, as I am sure you will have some fun with the iGeneration following you.

"Generation X has been deemed as the unhealthiest generation," Kantor said. "The stress level and mentality of this generation tends to be more intense than those before and after them. Focusing on making small lifestyle changes related to nutrition, fitness and stress reduction will have a positive impact on this generation.

"They work hard, long hours and are tired when the day is done. This generation is on more medications, they are overweight/obese and they "de-stress" with alcohol and other recreational drugs more than other generations."

Kantor continues with a list for the Gen Xers to adopt in order to increase vitality and longevity.

A variety of workout types. A diverse exercise program that incorporates strength training, cardiovascular, core and flexibility is best. An intense workout day followed by a more restorative workout day, like walking, stretching, yoga and/or Pilates, can provide physical and mental benefits to this tightly wound generation. Slowing down may be exactly what they need to improve their overall health on the inside and out. Consider this for startersLower Back Plan

Quality sleep. It is best to wind down in the evenings and turn off work and stress. Going for a walk outside after dinner, taking a bath, reading and turning off the high-wattage lights can do wonders for improving sleep. Food with melatonin and magnesium, like pineapple, bananas and oranges, to name a few, can improve the quality of sleep.

A multivitamin may be useful. Kantor suggests taking a high-quality multivitamin/mineral, omega 3 fish oil and a multi-probiotic. Other supplements may be recommended individually by your health-care provider based on labs and symptoms.

Drink water but also ... Reducing acid and inflammation in the body can help those who are dealing with chronic diseases like high-blood pressure or Type 2 Diabetes or Pre-Diabetes. Reducing hydrogen by drinking hydroxide alkaline water can help with acid reduction. 

Things to avoid. Limit eating out; restaurants are heavy in sodium and unhealthy fats. Avoid pre-packaged foods. Most contain harmful chemicals like dyes, high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Zero-calorie artificially sweetened drinks are also on the avoid list. Most contain aspartame, saccharin or sucralose, which all have been linked to cancer. Also, reduce alcohol consumption. This generation tends to let loose and binge-drink on the weekends or in the evening. Practice moderation and avoid developing bad habits.

Eat Super Foods. Heart-healthy fats from coconut oil, nuts and seeds have been shown to help prevent or manage symptoms of dementia. A ratio of 3:1 vegetables to fruit for a total of 9-11 servings of fruits and vegetables. Dark fruits are the lowest in sugar (i.e., berries), and fibrous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, spinach and kale are best.

And start small to build good habits and eliminate old (bad) habits. To make a lifestyle change that is needed in all generations, try to move more/eat less and move more/sit less in front of the screen (TV, computer, phone), cut back on eating out and aim to get 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Start off easy by just moving more. Perhaps get an activity monitor and start tracking steps and aim for at least 10,000 per day.

Thanks, Dr. Kantor, of www.namedprogram.com, for his assistance, opinion and knowledge concerning Generation X's health status and ways to correct it.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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