Matt Vlahos is pretty sure he'll age better than his parents — what with the kickboxing, the yoga and the pickup hoops that consume the 30-year-old's lunch hours at Life Time Athletic in downtown Minneapolis.
But the big generational difference, as he sees it, is awareness of healthy foods. "Our parents' generation … uh, well they were raised more on microwave dinners and canned foods," said Vlahos, a social media manager at Target.
While that might be true, not every member of the thirty-something club shares Vlahos' optimism. A first-ever national survey on attitudes toward health and aging by the Mayo Clinic found that Americans in their 30s are the least likely to believe they will age better than their parents.
Some 56 percent of respondents aged 30 to 39 said they expect to age better, according to the Mayo survey released Wednesday. That was well below the levels of confidence expressed by Americans in their 40s (79 percent), 50s (67 percent) and 60s (72 percent).
Kati Cheney, 30, of Woodbury, is a pessimist. On Saturday, she said, she was so busy whisking her two daughters to their activities that she had a bag of chips for lunch. Meanwhile, her father, a retired pastor, was training for an Ironman. "I don't think, when I'm 50, I will be able to train for an Ironman," Cheney said.
Increased confidence about aging is to be expected among older Americans, who have lived long enough to know how their later years actually turned out. The Mayo survey found that 92 percent of Americans in their 80s believed they aged better than their parents. But even the millennials in their 20s had more confidence (71 percent) that they would age better than their parents than those in their 30s did.
Today's 30-somethings make up the tail end of Generation X, which emerged into the workforce around the time the dot-com bubble burst and reached midcareer at the time of the last economic recession. Health insurance premiums have skyrocketed throughout their careers, making the cost of good health daunting.
Their pessimism, however, might be temporary, said Dr. John Wald, Mayo's medical director for public affairs.
"Some of that is just living through the generations and understanding. It's not until you're in your 50s and 60s and 70s and you look at your parents and maybe the parents before them and say, 'Wow, maybe I am living a healthier lifestyle.' "
Doing something about it
Generational attitudes about aging were only one component of the new Mayo survey of more than 1,000 people.
It also found that 96 percent of Americans plan to do something about their health in 2016, and that women are more likely than men to schedule needed medical appointments and screenings.
Mayo's goal with the annual survey was to broaden its brand as a source of health care information beyond its hospital walls, Wald said.
Cheney said one health challenge for today's young professionals is the 24/7 nature of today's workplace, which interferes with sleep.
"I don't get as much sleep, or uninterrupted sleep, as my parents did," she said, "because I'm always checking my phone, checking e-mails … until the very last minute when I go to bed. Sometimes I'm checking e-mail in the middle of the night."
Many Americans in their 30s also are new parents, and might be struggling to maintain healthy habits while raising kids.
The Mayo survey found that 92 percent of Americans with children felt they had barriers to maintaining good health, compared with 83 percent of Americans without any kids. Caring for children was the second most-common barrier mentioned by all survey respondents — behind only work commitments.
When asked, yes or no, whether he would age better than his parents, 30-year-old Trevor Stratmann responded "hopefully."
Diabetes and obesity run in his extended family, which is based in rural Iowa, where he said five meals a day might work well during the harvest, but become excessive during the winter.
But Stratmann said his personal health went on "hiatus" in the period between finishing college and starting a family with his wife at their home in Plymouth. His weight ballooned by 35 pounds, but now with regular workouts at lunch, the Target equipment engineer has cut back 25 pounds.
"I'm just trying to get a routine in place that I can sustain," Stratmann said.
Cheney tried a yoga class, then a boxing class, but struggled to attend. Now she runs outside or on the treadmill on weeknights, making time after her girls are asleep.
"Just so I can tune out," she said, "for a little while."