A crticial factor often overlooked as people approach retirement is the impact of retirement on health. With the first wave of baby boomers approaching this life transition the effects of retirement on health need to be looked at more carefully.
One place to get information is the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal study by the University of Michigan, and sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the Social Security Administration.
Retirement and Health Outcomes
Based on the Health and Retirement Study here’s what is known about the effects of retirement on health.
- Complete retirement leads to a 5% to 16% increase in problems associated with activities of daily living and mobility.
- Complete retirement leads to 5% to 6% increase in medical illness.
- Complete retirement leads to 6% to 9% decrease in mental health.
These findings are based on an average post-retirement period of six years, and they are largely the result of decreased physical activity and declining social interactions that occur during retirement.
Positive Retirement Factors
There are factors that lessen the adverse effects of retirement on health outcomes.
- Being married.
- Strong social support. Read about the people of Roseto, Pennsylvania.
- Staying physically active during retirement.
- Continuing to work part-time.
Involuntary retirement makes matters worse as it seems to increase the adverse effects of retirement on health while retiring at a later age seems to lessen the adverse effects of retirement on health.
Getting the Most Out of Retirement
Stay in the game! That’s probably the best way I can describe getting the most out of retirement. Also, you should not have to retire to do the things you’ve been waiting to do during retirement. Find ways to do those things while you are still working, younger, and healthier.
- Travel is on most retirees bucket list. Make a list of places you want to visit and what you want to do when you get there.
- Stay physically and mentally active. Stay away from passive activities as much as possible (watching television).
- Volunteer. Get involved in an organization that is near and dear to you.
- Learn new skills. A dementia expert I heard speak once said that one way to ward off mental decline is to always be engaged in learning new activities. This keeps the brain “plastic” by forcing us to use parts of our brains that may not get a lot of attention. Like a chain the brain is to some degree only as strong as its weakest link.
- Go Back to School. This is somewhat related to the above. Most universities now offer classes at no charge for retirees. Always wanted to learn a new language? How about learn about the Big Bang Theory (not the TV show)? Now’s the chance. Go to your local college or university and see what classes they may have to offer you. Who knows how that new knowledge will impact you. Learning is much more fun when it’s done purely for pleasure, too
- Share what you know. If you have a unique skill or knowledge base share it with others especially the younger generation (they are going to need all the help they can get). Look into SCORE or Service Corps of Retired Executives to see how you can help others by sharing your skills.
- Part-time work. There’s only so much golf you can play and only so much money to spend on travelling. You may find a need to work part-time, not so much for the money, but for social interaction, a sense of belonging, and other non-financial benefits. In fact, before you decide to retire it’s a good idea to sit down and jot down all the benefits that come from working. You may find that you want to delay it or at least work part-time. People who are “getting paid” for staying home may think they are beating the system, but really they are only cheating themselves of the many benefits that result from being a productive individual.
Remember, it’s never too late to become the person you wanted to be. Colonel Sanders did not make it big with his recipe for chicken until he was of social security age.
Age energetically! Live retirement energetically!