Baby boomers smoke less than their younger counterparts in Maine, but for those who haven’t quit the habit, warning signs are popping up.
Jane Wilson, a respiratory therapist who fields help and quit calls for the Maine Tobacco Helpline, says she gets a lot of people in the boomer age group. Many have been diagnosed with health issues, she said.
“We get calls from a lot of people in their 50s and 60s who have high blood pressure,” Wilson said. “It’s pretty prevalent. That’s the kind of age group where they’re getting diagnoses.”
Cigarettes aren’t just about lung cancer. According to WebMD, nearly 20 percent of all deaths from heart disease in the United States are directly related to cigarette smoking, because smoking leads to coronary artery disease. The Maine Center for Disease Control has identified quitting smoking as one of the top three things people can do to avoid heart disease.
“The nicotine in cigarettes increases your heart rate,” Wilson said. “It affects your circulatory system. It increases the carbon monoxide level in your bloodstream, which decreases the oxygen level. Carbon monoxide is taken into your bloodstream easier than oxygen.”
Callers to the Maine Tobacco Helpline first must want to quit, Wilson said.
“They have to be ready,” she said. “It’s a process that you have to work on. It’s a physical addiction and a mental addiction. You have to figure out what you want to do with the morning cup of coffee besides have a cigarette.”
Patches, gum and other products help people quit smoking. And because it is partly a mental addiction, Wilson said, counseling can be of great benefit. There are support groups through hospitals and online.
Not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight go hand in hand with controlling blood pressure, those in the health care field say. Kim Norbett, a licensed dietitican with Nutrition Works LLC of Portland, says when it comes to diet, baby boomers “get it.”
“More boomers are into nutrition and have made changes earlier on than the previous generation,” Norbett said. “That interest has showed up earlier.”
Norbett hastened to add, however, that baby boomers don’t represent a movement – not anymore, anyway.
“I really take an individual approach with everybody,” she said. “Some people try things but can’t seem to do it. I tailor my advice to everybody individually.”
Norbett is all about the vegetables. Yes, she enjoyed a piece of her mother’s meat pie when she was home for Christmas, but she stresses moderation in meat consumption.
“Vegan diets do amazing things,” Norbett said. “But people just can’t seem to do it. You want somebody to use an approach that fits within their lifestyle.”
And what about carbohydrates, those demons in the minds of the low-carb diet craze of a few years back?
“With the Atkins diet,” she said, “people went from 250 grams of carbs a day to 20 carbs, and lost weight. Then people went back to not only 250 carbs, but they went to 300 or more.”
A middle-ground approach, Norbett said, is 100-180 grams of carbs a day – “good carbs,” such as fruit, beans and milk, of course, over sweets, she said.
Though Norbett does advocate meat in small portions, it’s a different situation for people who are in their 50s and 60s.
“As we get older, we do need more protein in our diets,” she said. “I tell people to use their hands as sort of a portion guideline. The portion should be about the size of the palm of your hand.”
Norbett said that her most important message is to replace animal proteins or carbs with vegetables.
“There’s a lot more room on your plate for vegetables,” she said. “Try roasting your vegetables in olive oil. They’re delicious.”
Even with a healthy diet, blood pressure can become a problem in older people. Nearly 29 percent of Mainers who suffered heart attacks had high blood pressure, according to the most recent figures from the Maine Center for Disease Control.
Larry Grard is a reporter for Current Publishing.