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How does retirement impact your health?


imagesBrockton and Plymouth – Retirement can have positive or negative impacts on health. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that complete retirement leads to a 5-16% increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activities, a 5-6% increase in illness conditions, and a 6-9% decline in mental health. However, these negative health effects can be reduced if the retiree is married, has social supports, continues to engage in physical activity after retirement, or continues to work part-time after retiring. The negative health effects of retirement may be larger if a person is forced to retire.
The National Institute on Aging says that health problems have a big influence on the decision to retire early, but less research has been done on how retirement affects your health after you retire. According to the Harvard Health Blog, retirement for some people is a chance to relax away from the daily grind—but for others, retirement can be a period of declining health and increasing limitations. One study ranked retirement 10th on the list of life’s most stressful events. Losing a spouse was number 1.
The U.S Health and Retirement Study data shows that retirees were 40% more likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those still working. The increase was greater during the first year after retirement, and leveled off after that. Another study from England concluded that retirement significantly increased the risk of being diagnosed with a chronic condition. In particular, retirement raised the risk of a severe cardiovascular disease and cancer.
There are other studies which link retirement with an improvement or a neutral effect on health. One study found that retirement did not change the risk of major chronic diseases, and brought about a substantial reduction in mental and physical fatigue and depressive symptoms among people with chronic diseases.
So the impact of retirement on health may depend on the individual. The Harvard Health Blog suggests that “moving from work to no work comes with a boatload of other changes.” If you loved your work, retirement can bring some emptiness of purpose. If you had a stressful job, retirement brings relief. Either way, researchers offer these tips for a rewarding retirement:

  • Don’t retire’ from daily contact with friends and colleagues
  • Maintain Activities like sports or traveling, to keep a purposeful daily life
  • Be creative: keep your brain healthy by painting, gardening, or volunteering
  • Keep learning: explore new subjects you have always been interested in

Understanding what large group studies say about retirement is interesting, but studies can’t predict how retirement will affect your life. People who retire because of health problems may not enjoy retirement as much as someone who retires feeling healthy. But, it makes sense to view retirement as a process. Often it is just the need to stay connected, and be a part of something bigger, that truly gives us that fulfillment in our later years, not the complete absence of work or responsibility.


Nicole Long

About the Author
Nicole Long is the Chief Executive Officer of Old Colony Elder Services (OCES).  Founded in 1974, OCES proudly serves greater Plymouth County and surrounding communities. OCES is a private, non-profit organization headquartered in Brockton with a second office in Plymouth. OCES is designated as one of 26 Aging Services Access Points (ASAPs) in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. OCES’ mission is to support the independence and dignity of elders and people with disabilities by providing essential information and services that promote healthy and safe living. The agency has 245 employees and operates more than 15 programs serving older adults, individuals with disabilities, their families and caregivers. For more information call 508-584-1561 or visit www.ocesma.org.