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Making older men and women healthier

By Peter West - posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014


The over 65s are the fastest-growing group of Australians.

For some time, governments have been concerned that Australia's population is aging. And this concern was reflected in the recent Federal Budget. What patterns can we see? And what policies do we need for an aging population?

This idea should concern all of us. What are the signs that we are aging? There is much material on the net, but here is my own list.

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1. Watching some show about an old geezer and empathizing with him. I watched "One Foot in the Grave" again and empathized with Victor Meldrew's battles with banks playing recorded messages and pig-headed bureaucrats.

2. Finding that places these days are much too noisy. The usual practice for many gyms is to have classes in which everyone is grunting away to loud music. Over this the trainer yells at everyone to exercise harder. I search hopefully for a cafe without music played loud enough to drown out the noise of people yelling into their mobiles.

3. Reading the travel section and flicking past anything that involves long hikes up steep hills. And instead wondering what kind of cruise or island resort would suit me.

4 .Asking 'who's that?' when those names come up in conversation. Who IS Snooki? Or Miley Cyrus? Or Khloe Kardashian? Justin Bieber?

We should be concerned about aging, but the media aren't interested. They mislead us into imagining we are all young, attractive and fascinated by matters related to food. Mike Chang's "Six Pack Short Cuts" pop up everywhere on the net, though I'm afraid my six pack seems to be hiding behind a spare tyre. Highlight all the shows in your TV guide connected with food, diets and weight-loss; you might conclude that Australians are a people obsessed with eating, fitness and staying slim if the media are anything to go by. (Apart from the ABC, which is determined that not a night shall pass without some show featuring the tedious Stephen Fry).

Meanwhile, Australians are putting on more weight. With its usual sense of moderation, the media talk of an obesity epidemic. The seriousness of the obesity problem has been disputed by some researchers.

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But data from the 2000 National Physical Activity Survey showed that over 7 million Australians aged 18-75 years (54%) did not undertake sufficient physical activity to obtain a health benefit. Over 2 million of these (15% of people aged 18-75 years) were sedentary, that is they did no physical activity in their leisure-time.

Young people are more inactive than we were as we grew up. That's plain to those of us who grew up walking to school, walking to church, playing sport on weekends, carrying shopping home and playing in the neighbourhood park. Now, at schools near me, mummies and daddies line up for almost a kilometer waiting to pick up their spoiled darlings after school. American sources say many people sit down most of the day. Kids are inactive because parents and teachers set a bad example.

Here in Australia, boys say they are often told in class, "sit down, shut up, write this down".

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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