They say two things are guaranteed in life: death and taxes. I would like to add a third — aging.

We age from the moment we are born until the moment we draw our last breath. We all experience this natural life process; some of us just experience it for a shorter time than others.

Today, our longer life spans are creating challenges and opportunities for governments, industries and businesses, as well as for individuals and families. This revolution finds us scrambling to address these challenges and opportunities as we enter unknown territory.

Among these challenges is the aging population's continual fixation on staying young and on top of its game. This desire to discover the fountain of youth has spawned numerous billion-dollar industries. Whether it's Viagra, nutraceuticals or tummy tucks, these markets are being driven by aging Boomers who want solutions and want them now. Just look at celebrity Boomers Randy Jackson of American Idol and Al Roker of NBC's Today Show, who both had gastric bypass surgery. After a lot of nip and a little tuck, they are thin again. But these celebrities took a major risk when undergoing the operation — three in 200 people die after weight loss surgery.

The Hunt Is On

Plastic surgery also has gone mainstream. It is now a part of several reality makeover shows and at least one fictional series. In less than an hour, the country can see a whole new person emerge from under bandages. For those less inclined to be cut, cosmetic companies offer what they claim are solutions for wrinkles, age spots and cellulite.

Of course, let's not forget that recent medical breakthrough: the World's First Anti-Aging Pill. The new pill's dramatic press release says the “promising discovery has been proven to quickly reverse the aging process by replenishing the body's own production of youth hormone to normal 25-year-old levels.” Hard to believe, I know, but let's try to imagine what such a product could mean.

If we can lose weight by having surgery and build muscle by taking a pill, why spend time sweating off those pounds and building that noteworthy physique? If we can take “elixirs of life” that promise to recapture the vitality of youth, why get out of bed to walk or run on a dark, cold morning in winter? These are good questions to ask, but the fact is all the surgeries, pills and elixirs have a downside, whether their claims are true or false. About 40 percent of Americans ages 50 and older believe anti-aging products are basically “hogwash,” while another 36 percent are “curious, but skeptical.” Although more than 20 percent of people in this age group say these products can “work sometimes,” just 3 percent say they like them a lot.

To Age or Not to Age

As we hear stories about increasing numbers of Boomers and older adults having their stomachs stapled or taking expensive “remedies,” we must recognize that most of these new industries focus on physical beauty rather than on internal health. Think about it. We can have a great exterior but still develop heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, diabetes and depression.

What kind of message is this focus on outward beauty sending to our children, whom most parents would agree should be taught that what's really important is on the inside? That message is also one we need to share with our members, some of whom may be too focused on the physical benefits of exercising. Exercising might lead them to a nicer physique, but more importantly, it can lead them to a healthier body. By making better lifestyle choices, eating properly and exercising, we can prevent, control or retard much of the heart disease, hypertension and diabetes that we see. Yes, physicians can prescribe pills to treat these health issues, but we can address them just as well — if not better — and for much less money with exercise, proper nutrition and lifestyle modifications.

Expanding the Message

The reality is, we don't live in a perfect world. And the pursuit of the perfect exterior, whether young or old, while neglecting the perfect interior, could have a major impact on the health of aging Boomers. Fitness professionals offer individuals the ability to lead a high-quality life by shifting their focus to the inside. If we are successful in doing this, we grow closer to attaining our goal of helping these individuals achieve their ideal self, both inside and out. By broadening the focus to include the internal, we can help our members — and our businesses — enjoy better health.


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.