Americans of all age groups are exercising more and smoking less than they were five or 10 years ago.
But baby boomers are less connected socially than earlier generations of 55-to-64-year-olds, and millennials are significantly worse-off financially than 25-to-34-year-olds were a decade ago.
These are among the findings in a new Stanford University analysis of how well-prepared Americans are to take advantage of longer life spans in the 21st century.
Americans have gained nearly two decades of life expectancy since 1940 -- 20 years for women and 17 years for men.
The "Sightlines Project" report (Read the full report here) from the Stanford Center on Longevity, published in February, analyzed mountains of data to determine whether various age groups -- from 25 years to 75-plus -- are on target to be healthy enough and financially secure enough to live well in those additional years.
Researchers delved into three major indicators for thriving in old age: financial security, healthy living and social engagement. Drawing on data from eight nationally representative, decades-long studies involving more than 1.2 million Americans, they measured how different age groups are doing.
For example, the "healthy living" section examined factors like sufficient sleep, regular exercise, healthy diet and body-mass index and regular exercise as well as avoidance of behaviors including smoking, illegal drugs and excessive alcohol.
Researchers found a mix of positive and negative trends.
Smoking, the No. 1 cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., is declining in all age groups. Just under 30 percent of millennials aged 25 to 34 smoked in 2011, a decline of nearly 20 percent compared to 25-to-34-year-olds in 1999.
But when it comes to weight, even as more people are exercising, obesity continued to inch upward from 1999 to 2011. More than one in three Americans under age 75 are now obese.
The Stanford researchers looked at measures of social engagement, including people's interactions and support from family and friends, contact with neighbors, volunteering, working for pay and participating in religious and community organizations. Having meaningful relationships and group involvement correlate with significant benefits in physical and mental health as well as longevity, the report said.
"We were really surprised by the current cohort of 55-to-64-year-olds, part of the baby boom generation," said Amy Yotopoulos, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity's Mind Division.
"Compared to their cohorts from 20 years ago, they're much less socially engaged -- less likely to be connected to a spouse or partner, family, friends, communities. That was kind of shocking to us that that particular group would be seemingly socially isolated."
Yotopoulos said other findings that surprised her were that exercise is up among all age groups -- but so is sedentary behavior, a risk factor for poor health.
"So a lot of us do our 30 minutes on the treadmill and then sit for the next eight to 10 hours," she said.
Martha Deevy, who directs the Financial Security Division of the Center on Longevity, said one of the most surprising findings to her was "the overall state of the millennials compared to the same age group 15 years ago.
"It is troubling," Deevy said. "While much has been written about student debt, looking at the overhang of debt across other financial decisions was troubling. For example, college-educated kids are coming out of school with far more student debt, and they delay buying a home.
"We don't know for certain it's due to student debt -- it could be other factors -- but we do know that delaying important financial decisions has a long-term impact."
The Sightlines Project found that financial security is down for all age groups except for people older than 65.
"More than one out of three 25-to-34-year-olds were living in or near poverty levels in 2014," the report said. The report defined poverty as 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is currently $11,880 for individuals and $16,020 for a family of two.
Deevy said the Center on Longevity hopes to spark a discussion of the issues raised and plans to update the statistics in the Sightlines Project every five years. Researchers intentionally chose metrics for the project that people or policymakers can change, either through altering individual behavior or through reforming government policy, she said.
The project, Stanford President John Hennessy said in a statement, "provides a data-driven analysis for researchers, industries and the public sector to use as the nation begins to capitalize on one of the greatest opportunities of our times" -- longer life spans.
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