The “baby boomers” are now between ages 47 to 65 and believe that the worst thing about aging is changes to their physical strength and health, over concerns about beauty according to a new poll released this week. In addition about 4.3 million adults aged 50 or older used an illicit drug in the last year.

Boomers express mixed emotions about getting older, with slightly more boomers (42%) feeling positive emotions like confidence or happiness about getting older than negative ones (38%) such as frustration, sadness or fear.

This generation also says the worst things about aging are changes in one’s physical abilities (28%) or health issues (26%) over other concerns. In addition, baby boomers who are worried about aging are more apt to be concerned about physical and mental health, as well as finances, rather than how they look in the mirror. Being physically independent, mentally competent, paying for medical costs, financial health and staving off illness all vastly outweigh “looking older” as a concern in the minds of most boomers.

The poll was conducted from June 3-12 by Knowledge Networks of Menlo Park, California, and involved online interviews with 1,416 adults, including 1,078 baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964.

Approximately one in three boomers say they are actively fighting the negative effects of aging and of that group, most say they are focused on the effects on their health (65%), with about a quarter (26%) focused on their mental abilities, and only 8% placing an emphasis on battling the effects of aging on their looks.

The AP poll also shows boomers are relatively optimistic they will live longer than their parents’ generation, with six in 10 (60%) believing they will live at least a little longer. Only 12% expect a shorter life span while 28% believe it will be about the same.

Boomers are in less agreement, however, about whether their longer lives will be better than the previous generation: almost half (49%) expect a better life than mom and dad, 25% say it will be about the same, but just over a quarter (26%) expect the quality of their lives will be worse.

Boomers are more apt to adapt their diet to be healthier as they get older rather than exercise. Only 57% of boomers have tried an exercise regimen in the past year at some time, which is the same with all other age groups except those born before 1946. Walking is the most frequent exercise regimen (35%), far outpacing other activities such as outdoor exercise, sports, weights and hitting the gym (all scored 13% or below).

In terms of physical appearance, almost one in three boomers (31%, including 55% of women) admit to regularly dyeing their hair, and most of those who do submit to the hairdressers’ magic say they do so specifically to cover their gray locks (73%).

Baby Boomers also grew up in the era of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. By midlife, those days are usually just a memory. But a recent report from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) warns that the drug portion of the old triad could pose a major public health challenge in the next decade.

The report estimates that about 4.3 million adults aged 50 or older used an illicit drug in the last year. That’s 4.7% of the adults in that age group. One drug of choice is a familiar one: SAMHSA says 8.5% of 50 to 54-year-old men used marijuana, compared to 3.9% of women of the same age. Women and men were equally likely to be abusing prescription drugs, according to the report, which is based on data collected from 2006 to 2008.

Although substance abuse at any age increases the risk of medical and emotional problems, it’s especially dangerous for people 50 and over because the effects of abuse are amplified by the normal physical decline of aging. The report also predicts that the rate of abuse among people 50 and older is likely to increase in the years ahead since the Baby Boomers and the generations following them have a higher rate of drug abuse than previous cohorts.

Sources: AP News Release and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Written by Sy Kraft