There are nearly 80 million baby boomers in the United States, 26 percent of the total population. This age group is aging, fast. Over 10,000 boomers turn 65 every day.
This very influential group has set new standards for lifestyle preferences – and for good reason. Many of the boomers grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a tumultuous period in American social and political history. As youths, they set the course for a relaxed American culture; as aging adults, they have influenced America’s economic and social values.
Older boomers are retiring and beginning to enjoy the good life, continuing to do what they’ve always done best: enjoy life. Even as they become “Social Security busters,” they defiantly continue the mantras of their youth: turn on, tune in and drop out; defy conventional wisdom; live for the moment. And they’re living longer. Americans who reach 65 are likely to live to 84 on average.
What has caused this significant increase in longevity? Boomers have seen the light and have changed the practices of previous generations. Changes in evaluating what they put in their bodies (granola rather than Big Mac); how they treat their bodies (hard-core drugs vs. high colonics); and how they interface with nature (carbon emissions vs. carbon footprints). And, lest I digress too far from the theme of this wine column: the boomers’ growing appreciation of wine and its health benefits.
First the wine. Older boomers were intent on changing the world, but most succumbed to the very ideologies they protested. However, those aging hippies did succeed in influencing one corner of American society – our appreciation of wine. Lancer’s wine, as an expression of our oenological omniscience (and a candleholder), became passé. Boomers began to explore new frontiers – to boldly go where no wine drinkers had gone before. They savored wine as a pleasure to be explored and exploited. Just as young professionals graduated from tie-dye garb to three-piece suits, so, too, did their preferences evolve from “cheap” wine to “better” wine.
This quest created a new market in the United States and an upward surge in quality wine at affordable prices. Consumption in America has risen for over 20 consecutive years.
Second, the health benefits. A number of boomers evolved from hippies to hipsters in their appreciation of wine. As they increased their consumption, many touted the health benefits of wine as their motivation; our bodies are temples and we must sustain the body and keep it whole. What better way than with a few glasses of wine each day.
Wine has been widely touted by health professionals for its antioxidant properties, its ability to control blood pressure and heart health. Even Big Brother concurs with this self-serving maxim: the USDA condones two glasses of wine per day in their healthy diet guidelines.
Ah, but all is not well in Boomerland. Cracks are beginning to show in those suits of Botox armor.
As boomers graduated from leather wine flasks to crystal wine glasses, an increasing number of them began consuming greater quantities of wine. They are now realizing that although they have been able to deny aging, they can no longer defy it. Their “mature” metabolisms are slowing down considerably.
Increasingly, older boomers are developing alcohol abuse disorders and chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, liver disease and certain cancers, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. According to one of its studies, “even if you are mostly a safe drinker, keep in mind that if you have one heavy drinking day per month, you may have a 20 percent chance of developing an alcohol-use disorder.” Note: a heavy drinking day equates to greater than two five-ounce glasses of wine.
The bottom line for aging boomers (a group in which I am reluctantly included): drink responsibly and in moderation. As Jerry Garcia sang, “Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey.”
Hopefully, we “will get by.”
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.