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Warning to Men: Retirement Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Category: Health and Wellness Issues

May 14, 2019 — The government isn’t quite ready to slap warning signs on retirement contracts like it did on cigarette packages, but maybe it should. The Wall St. Journal recently reported on several studies showing that delaying retirement can improve your longevity. While most people look forward to pursuing their hobbies, traveling, and spending more time with the grandchildren, there are some downsides. Many folks watch too much TV, don’t exercise, and lack the mental stimulation to keep them sharp. The studies seem to find that policies that encourage people to keep working result in fewer health problems and longer lives.

According to a WSJ article, “The Case Against Early Retirement”, researchers for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, using an idea from a Dutch study, “concluded that delaying retirement reduced the five-year mortality risk for men in their early 60s by 32%”. Women experienced less of a mortality risk. The study in Holland used a series of increasing incentives to get workers to stay on the job longer.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Economists Susann Rohwedder and Robert Willis found that people in retirement experience significant cognitive loss. It seems to make sense that learning new skills and being mentally engaged keeps the brain healthy, and in the absence of that stimulation our mental abilities decline. A study in France found that people who retired early experienced “slightly more dementia” than folks who worked longer.

A decline in social interactions could part of the reasons for declining mental and physical health among retirees. Without the social networks they have at work, and even if they do crossword puzzles and the like, people’s brains seem to miss the stimulation that comes with a working life. Depression and even physical problems can result.

Working longer also has positive financial effects. People have a chance to save more money, delay taking Social Security, and postpone tapping into their retirement savings.

Paying job not necessary

By no means do you have to have a paying job to experience the health effects that a job can provide. A volunteer gig or a hobby job can also give you and your brain important stimulation, and make you happier.

Bottom line

We hope that you are in a position to decide for yourself if and when you will retire. Unfortunately, too many people have had the decision made for them by their employers. But if you do decide to retire – whether it is early, on time, or delayed – the information about health and retirement in these studies should be considered. This assumes your job was not so physical that it became hard to do. If you don’t have a plan for how to stay meaningfully busy after you pull the trigger, maybe you should think about working longer. That decision certainly won’t hurt you financially. Your job might be part-time, or one where you volunteer. The old expression, busy people are happy people, always seems right.

Comments? If you are retired, do you wish you had worked longer? Do you feel you are losing your edge now that you are retired? Or are you happy and healthy, glad your working days are behind you? Please share your opinions in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on May 13th, 2019

18 Comments »

  1. Perhaps it is important to note that this research only included men. Men in this age group and of this generations were likely to have had very different life experiences than women. The headline should limit the conclusion. I’m guessing that a study of women might have different conclusions.

    Editor’s Comment. Were you the researcher Lynn? Because your guess is exactly what the study showed, women are less affected by retirement than men. We changed the headline per your suggestion, thanks!

    by Lynn — May 14, 2019

  2. Sometimes, we need to dig a little deeper into the studies. People may retire or retire earlier precisely BECAUSE they are experiencing some cognitive decline. Oftentimes the study hasn’t accounted for this. They attribute the decline to retirement, rather than attributing retirement because there is a decline. Have to separate correlation with causation.

    It’s also worthwhile knowing what kind of job we’re talking about. “For example, the health benefits of work aren’t generally shared by people with especially stressful, boring or physically demanding jobs. Workers in blue-collar jobs, for instance, accumulate health problems more rapidly as they age than workers in less physical jobs and usually experience health gains when they retire.”

    by Jan — May 14, 2019

  3. I retired 4 years ago this month at age 66 after a 44 year career. At the time, I didn’t think I would live very much longer due to the stress of both my position and the long commute in Dallas traffic. I had maxed out my pension and we had plenty in our 401k accounts and our youngest of four boys had graduated from college. It was time to decompress and erase the tapes. Did I miss my fellow employees? Yes, for a while but conversing about what was happening at the office didn’t really interest me much and most of my friends had already retired and moved away. However, I wan’t alone at home. My younger wife was pushed out of her position with a buyout offer that was hard to turn down and, if she did, she could have been laid off anyway in the restructuring. So we have a lot of time together now and she does her volunteer work and I putter around the house and play with the dog. I have made an effort to lead a more healthful life with better nutrition and more exercise and regular doctor and dentist visits. I haven’t felt this good in many years and we are able to travel the world and do the things that we put off while employed and raising our children. Life is good.

    by LS — May 14, 2019

  4. It was interesting to hear the different result for male vs female retirement. The result might have been skewed based on the jobs held by retirees of our generation. When I went to grad school in the 70s, women were still a minority. Those numbers would have been thinned out a little for a few women choosing to take off-ramps back for marriage & children, especially in pre-FMLA days. When you add sex discrimination pre-EEOC and the possibility that many women simply didn’t choose to work the same hrs or play the political games to advance in many companies, fewer baby boomer women ultimately worked in the highest-stress executive, technical and/or professional jobs. Of course, times have changed (and continue to change). I’d speculate that more women were in the habit of exercising their brains outside of the workplace all along — while more men focused their brain energy on work, and might therefore have a greater drop-off after leaving their jobs. Aside from longer lives (and less money), there’s some weird irony in women allegedly having some things better now that we’re old.

    I actually did have one of those high-stress higher level jobs (while caring for a disabled, terminally ill spouse & raising kids). I went off-line with relief when I chose to retire. Like LS, I had no interest in hearing about what was happening in the office and I wanted to ensure I couldn’t be tempted back. I had enough money to live a comfortable but simpler life, and had earned the right to decompress. I am thrilled — at least for now — to be able to choose NOT to have mental stimulation. Hurray retirement!

    by Kate — May 15, 2019

  5. I retired exactly 10 years ago today at one day b before my 67th birthday. My husband insisted on retiring exactly when I did though he was only 64. The study sounds like a description of our lives. I got a rescue dog 2 years ago (my first one) to get myself walking more than I was doing on my own. Best thing I’ve done for myself in years. That pup brings me much joy. I also have hobbies that I pursue and have traveled with friends several times without him. My husband has no hobbies, doesn’t like to travel, and shuns exercise of any kind. He watches TV and reads a lot. Both his physical health and mental sharpness have deteriorated to some degree. It is of course impossible to know whether this would have occurred regardless of his retirement but this study felt very true to me.

    by Ellie — May 15, 2019

  6. Retired almost 2 years ago at age 56 and have no regrets. Thirty two years of stressful work, much of it not enjoyable, was more than enough for me. Now there is time to exercise, take care of home and yard projects and read, a luxury for which I could never find time in the past. Under the terms of my government retirement I would have to return a portion of my annuity if I make more than $14,500 in a year. That alone is a deterrent to part time work.

    by Scott — May 15, 2019

  7. I felt guilty about not working for the first couple of years after retiring at 60, and like some animals released into the wild, had trouble leaving my cage. Now it’s such a relief to have no commute, no boss, no petty office politics, no imposed drudgery, no lay-off concerns. My mind and well-being have flourished pursuing things I enjoy on my own schedule with people I choose, and I feel more creative, confident and optimistic as a result. So far, so good!

    by Daryl — May 16, 2019

  8. (Speaking of staying busy in retirement, this comment came in from Dave Dixon)
    One of our residents’ favorite activities during our annual neighborhood week is to find new ways to improve our community. While most of us volunteer in our free time at least a few times a month, we especially look forward to our Neighborhood Week when we all join forces to make a difference together. Here is a great article How to Fit Volunteering into Your Packed Schedule
    No act is too small for a person, animal, or even an organization in need, and volunteering is such a meaningful way to make a difference.

    by Dave Dixon — May 17, 2019

  9. I worked a steady 9 to 10 hours per day during my 30+ year corporate career. I loved it, but I had accomplished pretty much everything I set out to do and there was plenty of stress in the job. I retired early (56) and immediately earned a real estate license and started a service for baby boomers looking to retire to golf communities (web site and monthly newsletter part of it). I am now supplementing that with a booth at an antiques market (I work the floor two days per month), board membership at a social welfare agency, plenty of golf, and my favorite activity, serving as general manager of a baseball team (my fantasy baseball team). Oh yes, I am also in charge of building wedding web sites for my two children who are getting married in August and February. I may not be working a steady 10 hours per day — I basically “punch out” at 4 pm every day — but I feel as vital as I did during my corporate career. And except for the aches and pains of an aging body, I fell excellent physically (at 71). I feel sorry for those who write that they hated their jobs for 30 years, and even sorrier for those who think “couch potato” is their reward in retirement.

    by Larry — May 18, 2019

  10. Larry, Amen! 🙂

    by Jean — May 18, 2019

  11. Different strokes, folks. So many retired people have a desperate need to keep racking up points on their resumes and then finding people to applaud. It’s sounding a lot like the old working mother vs full time mother wars. Are you happy now? That’s the point.

    by Daryl — May 19, 2019

  12. Daryl – Bravo! Choosing to be a “couch potato” can mean enjoying nature, catching up on books or old interests, spending time with family, etc. It doesn’t equal mental or physical inactivity. A “couch potato” who is enjoying rediscovering themselves (after being stuck in an office, a factory, etc. for years) might feel sorry for someone who feels a need to keep busy. Daryl is absolutely correct that happiness is the point for both ends of the spectrum, not judging people who chose a different kind of retirement.

    by Kate — May 19, 2019

  13. Kate, if you want to redefine “couch potato” to mean active enough to “enjoy nature” (beyond watching National Geographic TV reruns) or spending time with family anyplace but on the couch, then fine, that plus reading books sounds like a fine retirement. As for being “stuck” in a specific job/career for 30 years, no one outside of prison is forced into a specific job. A person who hated his/her job for that long is precisely the person who should look to do something meaningful in retirement, beyond just watching TV from the couch.

    by Larry — May 19, 2019

  14. Jeeze, Larry, I disagree. You only have so many years left, now they belong to you. If you’re bored and miserable, go find something you enjoy. If you are content, relaxed, happy even just puttering around, so be it. And it’s not just 30 years at one job, it’s the whole ugly setup of being just a human resource. Some people are content to just BE, not constantly DO. Even Type A overachievers can lose their cognitive skills, or stroke out.

    by Daryl — May 19, 2019

  15. Daryl, “puttering around” is not being a couch potato. It implies fixing things, maybe gardening a little, and involves at least some activity…and it makes collapsing into the couch at the end of the day much more satisfying. I know from experience: That is how I justify the cost of my subscriptions to Netflix and Amazon Prime. I didn’t mean to imply that sitting on a couch for a couple of hours a day implies couch potato.

    by Larry — May 20, 2019

  16. My wife and o retired recently and we love being active or doing absolutely nothing. We no longer have the stress a job gave us too many years to count. We feel younger, healthier, and younger. We travel, we go to dinner with new friends, concerts in the park or just sitting in a chair.
    For us, everyday is Friday feeling. No more sick feeling knowing it’s Monday, or deadlines to meet. Our motto “Life is Good”.

    by Skip — May 20, 2019

  17. Skip, it doesn’t really sound like you are “doing nothing” — unlike the “couch potato” Larry described. The last posts by he and Daryl sort of say something similar. My understanding of “couch potato” is the person who literally “does nothing” but sit/lay around all the time with maybe mindless tv or sports. Conceptually, eating and drinking are all that are involved. Many retirees (like my wife and myself) wonder how we ever found time to “work”. Good motto there! Mine is “One Life to Live”.

    by RichPB — May 20, 2019

  18. I believe humans should live as they want, as long as it is legal and does not place a burden on the rest of society. My motto is “Live and Let Live.”

    by Bubbajog — May 20, 2019

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