Abs. flab. coronaries.
Gripped by the fear of looking bad or dropping dead -- often considered equally undesirable -- we have spent the last 30 years or so obsessing about the Big Three (above). We toned, tanned, jogged, lifted weights, dieted every which way and guzzled fancy water. Too bad we totally forgot about the parts of our body we really need to keep ship-shape:
Eyes. Ears. Brains.
At last, however, our priorities seem to be shifting. "Health from the neck up" is the new catchphrase, and the minute you stop to think about it you realize: Of course! Why did we spend so much time worrying about our thighs instead of our eyes? Which is going to let us drive later on? While we're at it, which do most of us need more: perfect pecs or a brain that can remember its Yahoo password? And what about paying some attention to our ears?
Not "rears." I said: Ears. Ears! Those things on the side of our head that weren't invented by Steve Jobs!
"People are living longer and seeing diseases that are very debilitating but not necessarily life-threatening," says Carol Davies, a partner at the innovation consultancy, Fletcher Knight. She's talking about everything from macular degeneration to deafness to dementia. Naturally, she adds, "there's a desire to avoid them."
In other words: Now that we've got those longer lives we were angling for, how are we going to make them fun till they're done? And I ask not just because my mom has Alzheimer's and now I worry every time I forget a phone number, but because ... aw, heck. That's exactly why I ask.
Well, first off, says Davies, we are going to start eating, doing and buying everything possible to keep our brains buff. Maybe you've already seen the new drink Brainiac. It looks like Vitaminwater. In Europe, meanwhile, Unilever is selling a margarine chock full of the fatty acids and vitamins that are said to stimulate mental development. Right now, it's targeted at kids. But Unilever: come on. Our mental capacity starts going south at 20- something. Time to target the post-college crowd.
In fact, targeting Gen Z is a great way to keep the category from suffering from the prune problem. You know. The way an otherwise delightful health product can get saddled with sad and sickly associations. After all, young people are as eager as anyone for brain boosts. That's why they're popping Ritalin at college. So aim for that crowd with your brain tuner and wink to everyone older that this'll help 'em, too.
What also helps, says Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, is learning an entirely new skill. That's why, decades after he graduated from school, he's taken up Spanish. Video games seem to have a similar salutary effect, at least on the above-30 crowd that has to learn new skills to master the games. So new experience -- whether virtual or real -- can all be pitched as brain toners.
As for eyes: I know that I paid some ungodly extra sum to add a coating to my glasses to keep out damaging rays. A product like that -- I don't have to eat it, slather it on or do anything, really -- was worth $100 to me. Protect people's eyes and you're golden.
Ears? It's hard to think of any great ideas beyond plugging them, especially at Metallica concerts. But Lorraine Mignault, an author and inventor in Winnipeg, points out that certain vitamins keep the ear wax healthier, and healthier wax = better hearing. Good luck coming up with a jingle. ("That's not an earring/ That's the wax that ruined my hearing!" Maybe not.)
Anyway, think from the neck up and consumers are all ears. And eyes. And brain.