Early Retirement Can Be Hazardous to Your HealthHealth and Wellness Issues
February 9, 2023 — Millions of Americans dream about an early retirement. Many others had no such goal, but were pushed into it by the pandemic, unexpected layoffs, or health issues. But however they might have come into the ranks of the retired, many will not fare well. That is according to research reported in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, where Binghamton University researchers found that early retirement can lead to “faster cognitive decline among the elderly”.
The study behind these findings comes from data from a Chinese program for promoting early retirement. In an effort to reduce poverty among its rural population, the country provided pension benefits in its 2009 New Rural Pension Scheme (NRP). The Binghamton researchers compared what happened to people in China who took the pension benefits and retired early, versus subjects who stayed in the workforce.
Plusses and minuses of early retirement
On the plus side, those in the study who took early retirement often experienced improved overall physical health. They tended to sleep better, and reduced their alcohol and smoking intake. So far so good. On the negative side, those who retired early seemed to exhibit reduced social engagement and mental activity. Ultimately, they showed an accelerated cognitive decline in the form of delayed recall. Dementia, it seemed, could be predicted in many of the subjects.
The brain health results of the Binghamton University study on early retirement reinforces what Topretirements has seen in other studies as well as our personal experience. When people stop working they need something to take its place to keep their brains healthy. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the TV medical expert, has an excellent book in which he lays out his 5 pillars of brain health. He says no amount of crossword puzzles or Wordle games will keep us sharp if we don’t attend to the basics that keep our brain cells in tip top shape. His 5 pillars are: Stay physically active, discover things like a new skill, get enough sleep, eat well, and have lots of social connections.
Retirement necessary for many people
We don’t mean to say that retirement isn’t a good thing. Many folks have mentally and physically stressful jobs that are hazardous to their health. For them, retirement is necessary and helpful. Others just want to retire early, and that is OK.
Retiring early can be a great thing if that is the goal. But, no matter what age we retire, we need to engage in activities that will keep our minds sharp. Staying healthy and connecting with others is key. Finding a purpose to our lives is a great way to having a healthy brain. It can be a hobby, a volunteer job, caring for a loved one, travel, a sport, etc. Just don’t wait until the day you start retirement to find that focus. Start now developing a plan of action to find the thing that is going to get you out of bed in the morning with a sense of excitement.
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Could not agree more that activity, physical and mental, is the key to a rewarding retirement. I “retired” from a corporate career at 54, and again at 57 from a higher education job, then earned a real estate license and began helping couples identify and move to golf communities in the Southeast. The activity involved a lot of creative writing for my website, a newsletter and other outlets, more than 1,500 articles in 18 years. In 2020, I published a guidebook for Baby Boomers about how to find a dream golf home. I have been a volunteer board member of a social welfare non-profit for nearly 20 years and signed up last election cycle to write speeches for a political candidate, something I had always wanted to try. I play as much golf as I can, watch a lot of movies (participate in weekly film discussions) and am commissioner of a baseball league (fantasy baseball) and general manager of a team. Oh, I have also begun to write a murder mystery; even if never published, the effort has stimulated my brain. In short, my advice is to get involved in things you enjoy, and try new things that keep you mentally stimulated; all things being equal, you will have a happy and healthy retirement. I have.
by Larry — February 9, 2023