TORONTO -- Baby boomers may have dreams of spending their twilight years basking in the glow of good health, but a new poll suggests they'll have to work much harder to make that vision a reality.
The findings come in the Heart and Stroke Foundation's annual report on the health of Canadians, which opted to focus on the habits of one of the country's largest demographics.
The online survey found a noticeable disparity between people's perceptions of their own health and the reality of their medical situation.
While 80 per cent of survey respondents described themselves as healthy, the poll found details of the participants' health habits told a very different story.
Nearly 85 per cent of respondents did not eat the recommended number of fruits and vegetables per day, while more than 40 per cent fell short of ideal physical activity levels. A fifth of respondents described themselves as smokers and 11 per cent suggested they were heavy drinkers.
Such habits, the Heart and Stroke Foundation said, are setting survey participants up for years of disappointment.
Cardiologist and foundation spokeswoman Dr. Beth Abramson said those who indulge in unhealthy behaviours now are ignoring the fact long life is not always equated with good health.
People often live up to 10 years beyond the time their health has deteriorated, she said, adding that final decade is often spent in discomfort and dissatisfaction.
"We're in an era where we have better treatments and medications for acute, sudden problems, but we're living with chronic diseases," Abramson said in a telephone interview. "We want to have a healthy quality of life in the long run, and it is under our control. We can make the decisions to make health last."
Exercising that control should be a high priority for the majority of survey respondents, the poll suggested. About 61 per cent of participants said quality of life mattered more to them than longevity, adding they had plans to spend their final years travelling, enjoying their grandchildren and exploring new hobbies.
To bring these hopes to fruition, Abramson said they'll need to take action.
Many of the most effective steps people can take to protect their health are common-sense, including a routine checkup, Abramson said, adding Canadians should make every effort to step up their fruit and vegetable intake and reduce their consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.
Most could also benefit from increasing their amount of exercise, she said, stressing that need not involve gym memberships or taxing workout regimens.
Using stairwells in public buildings, working brisk walks into a daily routine and simple household chores are all effective ways to reach the recommended 150 minutes a week of physical activity, she said.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation poll was conducted online by Leger Marketing among 800 Canadian baby boomers -- born between 1947 and 1966 -- in November 2012.
-- The Canadian Press