Tips for Gen X and Y to turn the tide on declining health

In a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers from The Ohio State University found that Generation X and Y have had more rapidly declining health than previous generations. (Note: The study only included self-identified non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics).

The study found general increased rates of anxiety, depression, metabolic syndrome (related to diabetes), heavy drinking and exposure to smoking and street drugs. Increased obesity appeared to have a negative impact on all the studied groups and is thought to play a major role in the decrease of health of younger generations. It’s important to be aware of these trends to keep yourself healthy, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some tips to help turn the tide on declining health:

1. Relieve your stress

Stress is extremely harmful to both your physical and mental health. Stress can lead to increased anxiety, depression, drinking and/or substance abuse. Physically, stress can cause trouble sleeping, stomach or digestive problems, headaches and muscle tension. Stress can also cause your heart rate to go up, as well as chest pains. All of these things can take a toll on your health. It’s extremely important to find healthy ways to relieve stress and make you happy. That could be connecting with family and friends, going for a walk or working on a hobby. Everyone should have an activity that can help them relieve stress in a healthy manner.

2. Ask for help

When you feel your mental health is declining, it’s OK to ask for help. Asking for help can be hard for many people, but it’s so beneficial. Opening up to a family member, friend or professional about your struggles can help you find a way to better your mental health. Mental health can affect your physical health, so it’s crucial to treat it with as much importance as physical health. Asking for help is a courageous step to keeping yourself healthy.

3. Stop smoking and drink less

In the study, it was found that groups with higher rates of heavy drinking (more than 14 drinks per week for men and more than seven drinks per week for women), drug use and smoking had faster declining health than other groups and previous generations. Heavy drinking and smoking can lead to dangerous health conditions, including cancer. Avoiding smoking and heavy alcohol use can help slow down declining health.

4. Exercise

Exercise is extremely important to stay healthy. Exercise has numerous benefits, including relieving stress, lowering risk of heart disease and improving blood sugar levels. It doesn’t have to be high-intensity workouts to help better your health. Going on walks, playing tennis and riding a bike are all great ways to get your body moving. Just find a way that you enjoy.

Always consult your primary care provider with specific questions about your health.

Angela U. Tucker is a family medicine specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and an assistant professor at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.