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Two Major Boomer Wellness Goals: End of Sarcopenia, Compression of Morbidity

The aged man struggled to get out of his recliner. His leg muscles could not lift his weight into a vertical position, so he fell back into the chair, exhausted. He sat there for a few minutes, trying to command his weak muscles to help him stand. He barely had strength to push upwards with his hands against armrests.

Finally in a single determined push with arms and forward momentum from rocking, he stood, though unsteadily. It took a few seconds for him to find his balance so he could then shuffle from his recliner to reach the bathroom. There he would need to sit again, and he knew that leaving the stool would be equally arduous — maybe impossible. How he dreaded the idea of becoming immobilized and unable to escape the prison of sitting.

One morbid challenge confronting Boomers as they age many not ring familiar to you. But when you think about it, you might consider aging from a different perspective.  Called sarcopenia, this challenge involves muscle wasting due to aging.

Maroland Brochure Rnd 4

Sarcopenia derives from the Latin roots, "sarco" for muscle, and "penia" for wasting, making it a “muscle wasting disease.” Sarcopenia is a byproduct of the aging process, the progressive loss of muscle fiber that begins in middle age. The process starts in our 30s but, unchecked, leads to rapid deterioration in strength and endurance in the mid-60s. Without intervention, adults can lose as much as 8% of muscle mass every ten years.

Sarcopenia propels a cascade of other medical problems. Less muscle mass and strength leads to faster fatigue. Chronic fatigue leads to less physical activity and a more sedentary lifestyle. Less activity results in fat gain and obesity. Excess weight contributes to glucose intolerance, type II diabetes and a condition called metabolic syndrome. This syndrome can then cause hypertension and increasing risk for cardiovascular disease. The end-state of sarcopenia is death.

Muscle wasting contributes dramatically to eldercare costs. Once older patients become incapable of the activities of daily living, such as rising unassisted from a recliner, they are usually institutionalized in nursing homes and assisted living facilities where most remain until death.

I recently participated in an Innovators Summit: “a unique forum where leaders representing a variety of sectors join together to design new business models, network about possibilities, and spawn new insights around the aging marketplace of the future.” Staged at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, where I was formerly advertising and public relations director, the Summit brought together professionals involved in aging services, home healthcare, architecture, homebuilding, academics, medicine, technology, wellness, retailing, and of course, marketing. Participating organizations included Ecumen, Eskaton, IDEO, GE, Pfizer, Intel and AARP.

A significant part of this exercise in “deep conversation” involved forming interdisciplinary innovation groups addressing seven topical areas, including “home based care,” “new financial models,” “dementia and cognitive health,” and “livable communities.” I joined a group discussing the future of “prevention and wellness,” an area that his interested me for decades and has involved clients of Brent Green & Associates, such as EAS, Men’s Fitness magazine, the Institute for Health Realities, Men’s Health magazine, and Nestle.

Although wellness encompasses a vast array of subspecialties, from nutrition to socialization, I suggested we focus our discussion on sarcopenia. Knowing that this clinical-sounding word needed a more innovative title, a preventative medicine physician on our team suggested “Strong Muscle, Strong Living” as a friendlier, more benefit-oriented statement of purpose.

From this starting point, the innovation team began envisioning business possibilities. We summarized our innovation as follows:  “An integrated package of products and services with substantial media messaging dedicated to empowering the 50+ market to maintain muscle strength and mobility across the life span. This package includes assessment, nutrition science, exercise technology, positive messaging, mobility health and education.”

Imagine a public service media campaign developed to help adults 50+ become more aware of the hazards and risks associated with unchecked muscle wasting. What if the alien word “sarcopenia” or a friendlier euphemism became as familiar to the public as ED — erectile dysfunction? Could this campaign reduce healthcare costs by focusing 50+ adults on muscle maintenance long before the pernicious downward spiral toward frailty begins?

Our innovation team then imagined some business implications of sarcopenia mitigation as a public health priority. The first obvious area of opportunity lies in nutrition science.

Abbott, for example, recently introduced a brand extension of Ensure, its nutritional beverage supplement often associated with eldercare institutions. The company has named its new product Ensure Muscle Health. Flavored shakes include 13 grams of protein, 24 vitamins and minerals, and a quixotic new ingredient Abbott calls “Revigor,” an amino acid metabolite.

Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate, popularly referred to as HMB, is a supplement that may act as a “protein breakdown suppressor” and thus can serve as a performance facilitator for resistance training such as weight lifting. According to some proponents, HMB boosts strength levels, enhances gains in muscle size and strength, and prevents post-workout muscle tissue breakdown. Clearly, nutrition science can become the wellspring of future supplemental food products that lessen sarcopenia progression while improving strength and endurance in older adults.

Proponents of HMB and other supplements insist that nutrition by itself will not prevent muscle wasting. Thus, opportunities abound for fitness equipment designers to develop machines and training regimens that can help Boomers work out more effectively and frequently. A fitness machine has yet to be invented that takes a lot of the work out of working out, thus helping users push through psychological resistance to resistance training.

The next successful video workout program may be waiting for a superstar proponent. For example, Jane Fonda’s Workout has been credited for launching the fitness craze among Boomers who in the 1980s were arriving in middle age.

The 73-year-old, Oscar-winning actress introduced in 2010 a new DVD set targeting older adults called Jane Fonda Prime Time. Two new videos are entitled “Walk Out” and “Fit and Strong,” with the first focused on aerobics and the second on strength training. This regimen is heading in the right direction, but the exercise level required to participate is more suited to those already experiencing handicapping physical limitations. The most on-target innovation may be a hybrid series of workouts: less aggressive than youth-oriented P90X and more challenging than Fonda’s tamed-down workout for folks already significantly limited by disabilities.

Sarcopenia, a mystical word not to be confused with a Greek isle in the Aegean Sea, stimulates grand possibilities for innovation… in nutrition science, fitness equipment, video training programs, retirement community social engineering, public education, consumer products, and marketing budgets to sell all the aforementioned opportunities. Our innovation team agreed that not only can a national focus on sarcopenia potentially mitigate premature aging and death, but this agenda could further reduce spurious healthcare financial burdens confronting the nation.

Strong muscles mean stronger, sometimes longer lives. Through sarcopenia mitigation, Boomers can compress their morbidity — thereby lessening the burdens of old age illnesses by compressing an unwanted time of life into the shortest period possible before the final exit.

To visualize this cultural and business revolution personified, think of Jack LaLanne, a pioneer in fitness and strength training, who had a robust and productive life until age 96, dying from pneumonia after just a few weeks of illness. Strong muscles, strong life, quick death from natural causes. The circle of life doesn’t come full circle any better. 

Boomer Women, Photoshop, Fashion Advertising, and the Future of Beauty

Beauty is only skin deep.

A time-honored idiom recognizes an inexorable truth of human aging: that exterior beauty is fleeting and superficial.

Now this olden expression has found more contemporary implications in an era when digital photo editing challenges another long-established idiom: Seeing is believing.

For background, take a look at this disquieting short video from the Dove Self-Esteem Fund:

The British government may force advertisers to divulge Photoshop perfecting of fashion and cosmetics models. As reported by the Associated Press, “Next month, (U.K.) officials are sitting down with advertisers, fashion editors and health experts to discuss how to curb the practice of airbrushing to promote body confidence among girls and women.” As this article substantiates, many consumers do not consciously realize that scores of models in magazines today are “neither real nor attainable.”

“Coming just after London Fashion Week,” continued the AP article, “it’s the latest initiative in a long-running battle to force the fashion industry to show more diverse — and realistic — kinds of beauty.”

Clearly the public has cause for concerns about the extent to which photo editing has led to impossible representations of beauty, much to the detriment of young girls reaching puberty, contributing to health hazards such a bulimia, anorexia and depression.

But another side of this story is the extent to which Boomer women have also been Photoshop manipulated, underrepresented or even ignored in contemporary advertising, a topic that I’ve addressed several times in this blog, especially with respect to models gracing the pages of Chico’s catalogs.

In my most recently published business book Generation Reinvention, I analyze a number of social and political issues from the perspective of modern-day advertising and marketing. One of the topics is beauty marketing in a time when about one-third of all adult women in the U.S. are over age 50.

During the 1960s and 1970s the second wave of feminism inculcated a revolutionary idea that “the personal is political,” simply meaning that every aspect of our personal lives can be affected by the political environment in which we live and operate. Political and social forces can condition our personal lives. In contemporary marketing communications, Unilever’s Dove soap integrated “the personal” with “the political” through a spectacular advertising campaign designed to strengthen the brand by repositioning “anti-aging” with a new product line called Pro Age. Dove set out to attract favorable attention from roughly 40 million Boomer women, many of whom seek mitigation of wrinkles and other obvious cosmetic signs of aging but who also resent unrealistic and limiting portrayals of beauty.

Dove took a direct approach by unveiling a provocative new marketing idea: instead of demonizing or denying wrinkles and other signs of aging with illusions of perfection widely perpetuated by anti-aging product marketers, Dove chose instead to celebrate aging by showcasing real middle-aged women, untouched by Photoshop or digital video equivalents.

In the spring of 2007, Dove unveiled its new campaign featuring magnificent photography shot by celebrity photographer and Boomer Annie Leibovitz. The Pro Age print, television, and web ads feature full-figured women, none of whom are models and all of whom are over age 50.

My colleagues Carol Orsborn, Ph.D. and Marti Barletta, both authors of compelling books about marketing to Boomer women, speak and write with force and insight about the value of reaching today’s middle-aged women with messages respectful of their self-perceptions, aspirations, and practicalities about aging. They caution marketers to avoid the pitfalls of idealizing youth while avoiding realistic (but nevertheless aspirational) glimpses of middle-aged beauty.

The stakes in the cosmetic industry are slightly greater than high. Anti-aging skin care products reached worldwide sales of $13 billion in 2010, yet Dove’s management found something disturbing through a study conducted in nine countries: “91% of women over 50 feel they’re not represented realistically in the media.” By implication, Boomer women feel nearly invisible in typical cosmetic advertising that glorifies impossibly perfect complexions of girls barely out of puberty.

According to Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist at the Harvard Medical School and author of Survival of the Prettiest: the Science of Beauty, “We’re seeing a real shift in how people are approaching beauty. Up to now, it’s been about fighting aging with everything you have. Now you have a choice not to.”

Millions of Boomer women, many of whom grew up embracing the ideals of women’s liberation and other social movements to eliminate sexism from American business and society, are now pushing those values into the marketplace where anti-aging morphs logically into Pro Age. The personal becomes political once again. Or visa-versa.

Society finally recognized the deleterious consequences of cigarette advertising and its impact on teenagers in puberty, susceptible to both peer pressure and advertising mythologies. Now U.K. officials are looking at forcing advertisers to identify perfected beauty in advertising for what it is: fictional representations, unattainable in real life.

This could help young women accept more realistic portrayals of beauty. A forced transparency policy could also help their mothers — Boomer women — make it back onto the pages of fashion advertising, portrayed as they are in Pro Age ads: realistically beautiful.

Not only is the emotional health of young women an issue of grave concern, Boomer women (and the men they love) have a significant stake in this battle between the beauty marketing industry and the British government.

Winning this policy battle in favor of truth-in-advertising could be one additional step toward a fully inclusive society in which people are judged more by the content of their character than by the color — or age — of their skin.

Generation Reinvention cover design iUniverse 4 - small Excerpt from Generation Reinvention: How Boomers Today Are Changing Business, Marketing, Aging and the Future by Brent Green. Coming in October and available from on-line book retailers. Send us an email message to receive notification when Brent's newest book becomes available. 

Boomers as Consumers, The New York Times, and the Value of Aging

“After 40 years of catering to younger consumers, advertisers and media executives are coming to a different realization: older people aren’t so bad, after all.”

So goes the lead to a recent New York Times article about a marketing transformation underway. Suddenly the venerable newspaper has produced an article that unambiguously acknowledges what the marketing industry has been way-too-slow to accept: “older people,” namely Baby Boomers, are too lucrative to ignore even though over 80% of the generation has aged beyond the traditional marketing and media sweet spot of adults 18 to 49.

Halleluiah!

The Times article makes a point that this shift in mainstream thinking among media and advertising agencies is due to two factors: demographics and economics. Not only does the Boomer generation still evoke the metaphor of a “pig in a python” — its dominant population slice — members of this generation have far more to spend on a discretionary basis — 20% more on average in weekly earnings than the coveted 25 – 34 demo.

And older consumers spend on categories once thought the domain of youthful consumers. As TheTimes article insists, “Mature consumers also seem to be spending on categories not traditionally associated with older people. NBC’s study of those people 55 to 64 showed that they spent more than the average consumer on categories like home improvement, large appliances, casual dining and cosmetics.”

Revolutionary!

These are insights and conclusions many of us in the “marketing to Boomers” arena have been writing and speaking about for years — a decade in some instances. For many of us, The Times article comes across with about as much newsworthiness as if the newspaper was trumpeting the importance of segmentation in marketing. We have known with zero uncertainty that Boomers would bring to their aging a new style of lucrative consumerism. Some did not know that The Great Recession would give Boomers a distinctive economic advantage over younger cohorts, but this has happened too.

So, what is important about this article and what is missing?

Power and Influence - Dilenschneider Robert Dilenschneider, formerly CEO of public relations agency Hill & Knowlton, has written many worthwhile books about business communications. One of his notable books is Power and Influence. He makes a very strong argument that a handful of media in the nation shape and dominate the national conversation. The New York Times serves a unique role in setting the national agenda, as does The Wall Street Journal. When The Times covers a story, the story gains validity, further influencing lesser magazines and newspapers, shaping their choices of topics. Broader media coverage inevitably shapes mainstream thinking.

Indeed, though it has been a long time coming, an article in the Times with a mind-shifting headline — “In Shift, Ads Try to Entice Over-55 Set” — can be construed as definitive breakthrough. Those of us who have been writing, ranting, proselytizing, and prodding media to recognize reality can finally rest: message delivered and received.

And what is missing?

We can expect a business article to make a business argument: dominant demographic size plus disproportionately higher income equals a market mandating attention. Yet, behind this argument is a larger issue, making money notwithstanding.

The generations over age 45 are inexorably changing aging, so much so, and in such a pervasive and positive manner, that the structure of our culture and social order is becoming something it has never been before. As Dr. Ken Dychtwald, author of Age Wave, has been insisting for over two decades, Boomers don’t just populate life stages, they transform them.

My friend Susan at age 45 had her first healthy twin babies. My friend David started a thriving home healthcare agency several months before turning 60. My friend Lou leads two of the hottest, most progressive rock ‘n’ roll radio stations in Colorado at age 70. And so it goes for the breakdown of what’s normal and expected.

Dr Bill Thomas - photo Dr. Bill Thomas, geriatrician and profound thought leader on the future of aging, suggests that aging is its own opportunity for business to consider. “The development of a new perspective on age and aging is both necessary and possible,” writes Dr. Thomas. “Given the importance of aging in our lives, and the impact of aging on our families and society, a new openness and even curiosity about human aging would seem more than warranted. The time has come for our wondrous longevity to emerge from the long shadow cast by the vigor and virtues of youth.”

Boomer demographic dominance and economic might have now become self-evident and mainstream thought, thanks in part to the power of influence embedded in The New York Times. What’s lacking in this discussion is a third pillar of value: that older consumers are more than consumers; that age is more than decline; that an emerging elderhood will change nations.

Older consumers represent an unprecedented human asset worthwhile for business to cultivate, market size and economics notwithstanding. Our collective thoughts and actions as an “age cohort” will create new markets for goods and services while revitalizing others. We will empower brands like never before as brands become associated with maturity, wisdom, judgment, holistic thinking, generativity, longevity and actualization of human potential across the lifespan.

But I suspect it could take another ten years before the marketing and media communities fully grasp transformative implications of an aging society, one that will continue to manifest new dimensions as Generation X and then Generation Y cross that timeworn media delineation between age 49 and 50.

Rather, marketers and media will remain stuck in old arguments and beliefs: that the ultimate value of human existence is exoneration of youth to the exclusion of age. They will grudgingly revise their marketing plans to follow the money, just as The New York Times instructs, but they won’t buy into aging as a value unto itself. Many people inhabiting these fields won’t embrace their own aging because denial runs deep and vigorous, especially in these professions.

Right now the best way to manifest an emerging new sociology of aging and age inclusiveness is to buy stuff they didn’t expect us to buy and engage with media programming they didn’t expect us to consume.

Maybe a bit impatient, we’re not so bad, after all.

@LifeReimaged – a Strengths Based Approach to Life

When Americans Use Their Strengths More, They Stress Less

Strengths based emotional response

“Strengths based” is a popular industry buzzword, but what does it actually mean?

Like many buzzwords, “Strengths-based” can be interpreted numerous ways, which puts it at risk of turning into a platitude with little practical meaning. But it turns out, developing and leveraging our personal strengths may be more important than we ever imagined.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, and research indicates that the more time each day we spend using our strengths to do what we do best, the less likely we are to experience worry, stress, anger, sadness and even physical pain. Using our strengths also results in higher productivity and altruism. In other words, the strengths-based approach is good for business and good for life.

Unfortunately, fewer than half of American adults report being able to use their strengths to do what they do best throughout the day. Less-educated and lower-income Americans are the least likely to report using their strengths.

I can’t think of an industry that fails to utilize human strengths more than the long-term care industry. Where else are employees prohibited from tapping into their greatest personal strengths — compassion, love, understanding — when those strengths are exactly what the people they are caring for need? And it’s not just the employees — institutions also strip elders of the opportunity and freedom to grow and exercise their strengths.

What I love about this study is that Gallup, who has spent more than 50 years collecting data on human strengths, has taken a decidedly “strengths-based” approach to their findings. They see this waste of personal strengths as an untapped reservoir with great potential for positive growth:

The majority of Americans do not maximize their strengths on a daily basis, suggesting a possible avenue for improvement in important life and work outcomes. This opportunity is even greater among those in the least-educated and lowest-income households.

Considering the value — in terms of wellbeing and productivity — that using one’s strengths creates, if more Americans learn about their own strengths and put them to use, it could create a positive economic impact in the U.S. for businesses, communities, and individuals.

I’ll inject my two cents as well. I believe the biggest reserve of untapped strengths lies among our elders and soon-to-be elders (I’m looking at you Post War generation). I recently had the honor and privilege to be part of an all-star team working with AARP to develop a set of tools to help folks rediscover their passion and purpose as they enter the second half of life. The project is called Life Reimagined and it’s currently in the Beta testing phase. Coincidentally, the core purpose of this project is to help folks discover and use their personal strengths and gifts.

You all are among the first to take a look at this. Let me know what you think.