The pages of the calendar reveal a new year…and for many Baby Boomers, “take better care of myself” is likely on their 2019 resolution list. Exemplifying that is a dynamic group of 60 somethings in Columbus, Akron, and Austin – seniors who prove that a positive attitude helps them overcome the debilitating effects of chronic health conditions and live a longer, more productive life.
In an effort to “pay it forward,” these beacons of tenacity — ranging in age from 60 to 69 — are showing the world that it’s all about mindset and spreading the word to other seniors who have chronic health issues. The 60 Strong Ambassadors were chosen by a celebrity panel of judges to be highlighted in a 2019 calendar featuring activities and events that many seniors enjoy.
Ben Barlin, a 60 Strong Ambassador in Austin, was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer. Ben could have easily become immobilized with self-pity. Instead, he decided to climb mountains. “To get my spirit back, I decided to summit Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere,” he says.
The 60 Strong Ambassadors program is the brainchild of agilon health. The 60 Strong initiative was launched as a public service by agilon health with its partnership practices: Austin Regional Clinic and Premier Family Physicians, Austin; Central Ohio Primary Care Physicians, Columbus; and Pioneer Physicians Network, Akron; to transform the way they care for seniors. Sixty Strong Calendar Contests are slated for several other markets, including Pittsburg and Dayton, in 2019.
Kevin Spencer, M.D., Medical Director for the Austin-based partnership with agilon health and Chairman of the Board of Premier Family Physicians, says, “Like Ben, all of our winners in the 60 Strong Campaign are very inspiring. Although many of them struggle with debilitating health issues, they all make fitness a priority and remain positive about the future. Some have founded their own charities, and all are donating time to non-profits and their communities.”
The Ambassadors speak at Medicare expos and senior events, and while their life challenges differ, they all have a common message about the importance of preventing chronic disease and maintaining good health, which is a growing concern in this age group.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports three in four US adults aged 65 and older have a chronic disease, such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes. Those numbers are expected to rise significantly with a rapidly growing population and increased life expectancy in the U.S. The Population Reference Bureau estimates the number of Americans 65 and older will more than double from 46 million today to 98 million by 2060.
Angela Bosela, an Akron 60 Strong Ambassador who had 70% of her stomach removed in 2007 and endured chemotherapy and radiation treatments, was inspired to become a competitive runner.
“After cheering for my daughter at a race, I was motivated to start running,” Angela says. “I’ve now completed 200 races, including a marathon and 15 half marathons, and I often place in my age group.”
Angela is also a volunteer counselor for stomach cancer survivors, and she and her husband Paul founded the Ohio Chapter of Debbie’s Dream Foundation, an organization that provides support to stomach cancer patients and their families.
Some of the 60 Strong Ambassadors are grief counselors; they also serve as spokespersons about Medicare coverage and other healthcare decisions and emphasize the importance of annual physicals, regular screenings, and exercise.
The last point is critical. According to the CDC, one-third of older adults do not get regular physical activity.
In gratitude for their newfound lease on life, the 60 Strong Ambassadors are literally paying it forward,” says Bill Wulf, M.D., CEO of Central Ohio Primary Care Physicians. “The 60s are a difficult period — it’s often the first time people experience real health struggles. The Ambassadors have already experienced adversity, so they provide encouragement to others and give them hope.”