Can you hear it? That loud noise is the sound of the Baby Boomers blasting into their sixth decade of life, and oh what a decade it will be. But what effect will this group of aging Baby Boomers have on the fitness industry and on the nation's health and well being?

The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) has identified trends to watch as society shifts from a medical to a preventive care model:

  1. The rapid rise in obesity and diabetes rates

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 44 million Americans are obese. And, rates are highest among those aged 40 to 69 years old. This epidemic, combined with the aging of the population, has fueled a dramatic rise in the prevalence of diabetes. In the United States, estimates suggest that 17 million people have diabetes, with almost six million cases still undiagnosed.

  2. The growth of “anti-aging” products

    Consumers are expected to spend more than $56 billion by 2007 on products and services that help slow the aging process, according to a FIND/SVP report. The report states that health clubs and exercise equipment manufacturers project revenue to reach as much as $13 billion by 2007.

  3. The link between health and wealth

    Sedentary adults can save on average $2,200 per year in health care costs by starting to exercise moderately for just 90 minutes per week, according to a recent study by the HealthPartners Research Foundation. According to Health and Human Services (HHS), about 75 percent of health care spending can be attributed to chronic health conditions — much of which can be avoided or delayed through preventive measures such as early screening and healthy lifestyle choices.

  4. The increasing calls for preventive screening

    Just 10 percent of America's current spending on health care goes toward prevention, says Dr. Cristina Beato, assistant secretary of HHS. However, the federal government aims to change that percentage. In 2003, President Bush, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona promoted prevention as the desired model for health care and self responsibility. Also, pre-hypertension and pre-diabetes are new markers of chronic health issues. Individuals who learn of their increased risk for disease can make lifestyle changes to avoid or delay developing these conditions.

  5. The rise in research showing that exercise is a key ally in the battle against cancer

    A 25-year study by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggested that people who keep fit and trim may reduce their likelihood of dying from cancer. And, the American Cancer Society advises cancer survivors about physical activity and nutrition.

  6. The power of lifestyle choices

    Healthy lifestyle habits have proven to be effective in preventing or managing chronic conditions without the sometimes serious side effects of medications. The 2003 PREMIER study shows that individuals can make all the needed lifestyle changes to prevent or control high blood pressure at the same time.

  7. The increasing calls for physicians to prescribe exercise

    Many organizations are calling upon the medical community to get more involved in disease prevention by recommending physical activity and proper nutrition. With nearly one billion doctors' visits every year, the ICAA believes better health must start with physicians.

  8. The focus on caregivers' health

    A 1997 National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP survey revealed that 22.4 million American households were involved in caring for adults ages 50 and above, and that number could rise to 39 million by 2007. More adults in their 50s, 60s or 70s are caring for family members, while studies have shown that caregivers often become ill due to stress and lack of time to care for their own health.

  9. The volume of initiatives

    In the last five years, health initiatives have been launched at all governmental levels to help seniors stay more active.

  10. The increase in communities designed for activity

    Studies show that community planning can either aid or create barriers to active living, particularly among older adults. Numerous organizations and programs encourage or help regions to implement strategies for healthy communities. These initiatives include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's national program Active Living by Design, which recently awarded grants to 25 community partnerships.

Colin Milner is chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging. An award-winning writer, Milner has authored more than 100 articles on aging-related issues. He can be reached at colinmilner@icaa.cc.