Do you know your Baby Boomers from your Millennials? When each generation begins and ends is debateable, but at least we can all agree that millennials are the worst. But what is a Millennial? The millennials are part of a generation of people that were born approximately between the years of 1984 and 2004……they are accused of having a sense of entitlement, and of being narcissistic and lazy – the “celtic cubs”. This younger generation are not shy about telling people what they want, and success is often expected rather than worked for. The “millennials” were told they were special by overprotective parents, and they got participation medals even when they came last. But the reality is that when this generation reaches the age of work and responsibility they realise they aren’t particularly special, their parents can’t shelter them forever and there is no real prize for coming last!
The Millennial generation, also known as generation Y is the first to grow up in an environment where health-related information is widely available by internet, TV and other electronic media. In the 1990s, they loved teen pop music and after the turn of the century they brought social networking websites like My Space and Facebook to life. They are generally considered to be optimistic and they demand constant access to communication and wifi (Barkin et al., 2010). But their health is in decline which may make this the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. The life expectancy of humans during the past thousand years has been characterized by a slow and steady increase. But even if this younger generation reach old age, they may experience elevated levels of ill-health, frailty and disability when compared to older generations (Beltran-Sanchez et al., 2015; Crimmins, 2015)
Even worse is the fact that these pesky 18- to early-30-somethings “millennials” may be the cause the end of the current running boom. After 20 years of furious growth in the popularity of running, the number of finishers in race events in the USA dropped by 9% in 2015, and this was primarily due to a drop in the number of millennials participating in events. Like history has shown, it won’t be long before Europe and Ireland follows suit. It seems this younger generation may have been bred to avoid competition, both with themselves and others; too many of them like to avoid struggling and laze around in cosy comfort. Maybe this is why they shy away from running. This comfort zone is a region in which actions and performance fit into habitual behaviour thereby reducing pressure and risk – it’s easier to sit on the couch, stick within your 5k distance and not to reach for better. Yes, this offers mental security and possibly ensures low anxiety and reduced stress levels, but improvements don’t live here. It has been known since as early as 1908 that in order to improve we must step out of our “comfort zone” and enter a state of relative anxiety (Yerkes & Dodson, 1908). Acute stress – short-lived, not chronic – primes the brain for improved performance. Our brains and bodies perform better when our stress hormones are slightly elevated provided it doesn’t cause physical tension – we need to be a bit scared (Kirby et al., 2013). Being able to feel the anxiety of competition, but control and channel it is ideal for optimizing performance. But comfort brings boredom, monotony and ultimately a sense of being unfulfilled. It is short sighted and lazy. Yet many of this millennial generation now strive to achieve it. But maybe if they embraced their competitiveness it may force them to reach outside the routine to experience the joy and fun of the struggle of getting better.
Barkin SL, Heerman WJ, Warren MD & Rennhoff C. (2010). Millennials and the World of Work: The Impact of Obesity on Health and Productivity. J Bus Psychol 25, 239-245.
Beltran-Sanchez H, Soneji S & Crimmins EM. (2015). Past, Present, and Future of Healthy Life Expectancy. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med 5.
Crimmins EM. (2015). Lifespan and Healthspan: Past, Present, and Promise. Gerontologist 55, 901-911.
Kirby ED, Muroy SE, Sun WG, Covarrubias D, Leong MJ, Barchas LA & Kaufer D. (2013). Acute stress enhances adult rat hippocampal neurogenesis and activation of newborn neurons via secreted astrocytic FGF2. eLife 2.
Yerkes RM & Dodson JD. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology 18, 459-482.