Generational wellness: How each generation can thrive

We frequently talk about wellness, but what does it truly mean to live well? According to a Gallup study, well-being is tied to five common elements:

  1. Purpose: Enjoying what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  2. Social: Maintaining supportive relationships and love in your life
  3. Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  4. Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community
  5. Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

These common threads underscore how we perceive our own health and well-being, but that doesn’t mean we all perceive wellness the same way. Over time, society experiences changes in mindset, perspective, strengths and struggles that redefine our definition of what we think it means to live well. This is where the concept of generational wellness comes into play.

Why generational wellness matters

Regardless of generation, we all view the feeling of wellness the same: when actions and dreams come into happy alignment, leaving no place for discomfort or conflict. Where we differ is in how we achieve this feeling of wellness.

With so many different generations living and working in close quarters, it’s important to try to understand the people around you. We may take different approaches to life, but together, we can challenge and empower each other to truly live well — by all definitions.

The Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are labeled as such because of the boom in births after World War 2. Boomers make up a large proportion of the American population. The Census Bureau estimates that the percentage of the population over 65 will reach 21 percent by 2050, meaning that Boomers are looking for ways to stay well and feel well as they age.

Boomers tend to trust traditional healthcare more than alternative methods and find confidence in the support of their primary care physicians. This generation is more likely to avoid fat, salt, excess sugar, processed meats and full-fat dairy instead of worrying about organic foods and food trends. Boomers are more likely to prioritize chronic disease management.

Baby Boomers face many challenges and stressors in the workplace. They are loyal to their employers and colleagues, and want to work for their organization until they feel like they’ve contributed in every way possible. They bring a valuable work ethic and sense of responsibility. But Boomers are facing increasing competition for jobs, as well as age discrimination as younger generations rise. Many Boomers are burned out and are at, or close to, retirement age but can’t afford to retire.

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43 percent of Boomers reported feeling that time pressure and work overload are their highest concerns in the workplace.

Boomers tend to struggle with financial health, which in turn affects their mental and emotional well-being. With such a traditional view of healthcare, many Boomers neglect their mental health. Only 36 percent are likely to use on-site mental health services, compared to 54 percent of Millennials.

So, how can a Baby Boomer thrive?

Generation X

Generation X includes those born between 1965-1980. As the most highly educated generation, Gen Xers tend to be independent, tech-savvy, pragmatic and competent. When it comes to healthcare, Generation X is mostly concerned with looking good, feeling secure and taking good care of others.

They are often both parents and caretakers of their own parents, making them the most distracted group when it comes to wellness. They are more worried about taking care of their parents and/or children than they are about focusing on their own needs.

As a result, Gen X struggles most with getting enough sleep and managing stress, especially related to finances. Gen Xers make more money than Millennials but have more responsibilities — kids’ college debt, caring for aging parents, etc. This creates the perfect storm of emotional and financial stress.

Related: 7 expert sleep tips for tired moms

This generation also feels the need to participate in their children’s activities such as PTA, booster clubs or coaching sports teams. Gen Xers don’t have time to worry about their blood pressure, sleep or finding a primary care doctor because they are too busy taking care of everyone else.

Both Gen X and Boomers grew up in a time where mental health was a weakness or taboo topic. As they have aged, it is still not as accepted, understood or talked about in their circles. There is still a lot of work to be done in these older generations to get them to accept mental health as a real issue.

If you’re a Gen Xer, these are your keys to wellness.

  • Make time for yourself, too.
  • Take advantage of wellness newsletters like ours and other resources that can keep you up to date despite your busy schedule.
  • Talk to your doctors, your children’s doctors and your parents’ doctors about ways to make coordinating care easier.

Millennials (Gen Y)

Millennials, those born between 1980 and 1996, is the first generation that has never known a time before technology. In general, Millennials are self-managing, flexible, team-oriented, technologically sophisticated, value balance and have optimistic views on changing the workplace and world for the better.

Millennials tend to have a cynical view of healthcare. Of the 7 percent of Millennials going to the doctor regularly, only 19 percent feel their doctor proactively manages their health. They are more likely to consume health information from social media or the internet before consulting a doctor. They’ll try more alternative approaches that other generations may not be willing to consider.

Millennials look at health in the big picture: it’s a holistic balance of health, occupational, financial and social well-being. As a result, they are more likely than other generations to exercise and take care of their physical well-being.

While they may be thriving physically, they are hurting financially. Millennials have a higher debt-to-income ratio and lower net worth than previous generations, causing a significant amount of stress. Younger Millennials are struggling to get hired and older Millennials are struggling to get promotions. Therefore, they are quick to jump around from job to job and often struggle to figure out their financial and career trajectory. Many are having to work multiple jobs to afford their bills, causing lack of sleep and social time.

In comparison to Boomers and Gen Xers, Millennials are heavily interested in destigmatizing mental health.

What does it take for a Millennial to truly live well?

  • Find a primary care physician you trust and schedule regular appointments.
  • Talk to your doctor about ways to get better sleep and manage your time.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek out financial planning help from a financial counselor.

Gen Z (The iGeneration)

Born between 1997 and 2010, Gen Z is still very young and many of this population’s opinions are still forming. Research shows that Gen Z is shaping up to be similar to Millennials; therefore, it’s safe to say they will likely view health in a holistic, big picture approach.

One way that Gen Z will differ from Millennials is in their need and concern for occupational and financial security. 71 percent of Gen Zers are already saving for retirement.

They are the most open to food trends like plant-based eating and are willing to pay a premium for healthy, convenient options. They are also the most willing to take advantage of technology tools like wearables, telemedicine and smartphone apps.

Gen Z is also competitive and driven. They are less likely to be team players but are huge go getters and risk takers. However, stress is shaping up to be one of the biggest concerns for this generation. Having grown up in a world of increased anxiety and depression, Gen Z values mental health and are more likely to report it and seek support.

How can Gen Zers thrive?

The oldest Gen Zers are in their early 20s, so it is hard to predict what their biggest health challenges will be. However, this generation could benefit from the following as they become adults and enter the workforce:

  • Forge healthy stress management habits while you’re young.
  • Build a relationship with a primary care physician.
  • Continue taking advantage of health tech.

It’s easy to spot the differences among us but at the end of the day, we all want the same thing — better health and happiness for ourselves and those we love. So, let’s use these generational insights for good as we learn from and spur each other on in our pursuit of wellness.

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About the author

Alessandra Stasnopolis, RDN, LDN
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Alessandra Stasnopolis, RDN, LDN, is a clinical dietitian and wellness coordinator in the Baylor Scott & White Health wellness department.

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Generational wellness: How each generation can thrive