Retirement: it’s what many people work their whole lives to enjoy. People plan for retirement. They save for it. And many years before they retire, they dream with friends about what they hope to do when when they finally retire: travel more, stress less, and spend uninhibited time with family and friends. But these days, more people are putting retirement on hold – and there’s compelling evidence to show it’s having a positive impact on their health.
Researchers have long tried to determine whether retirement is good, bad, or neutral for a person’s health. Is it better to maintain a mentally stimulating job that doesn’t foster the needed time for exercise and relaxation? Or is it better to retire and relax – even though this often leads to eating more and exercising less? Retiring and relaxing might seem to be the right answer – but it turns out that there are several health-conscious reasons to postpone retirement.
- Reduce specific health risks
In 2012, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health looked at rates of heart attack and stroke in men and women as part of the ongoing U.S. Health and Retirement Study. They found that retirees were 40% more likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those who were still working. Additionally, when people retire, they often smoke, drink, and eat more – and exercise less. A more recent study by Maria Fitzpatrick at Cornell University and Timothy Moore at the University of Melbourne found that health problems actually get worse after workers qualify for retirement. Specifically, men are 2% more likely to die in the month they turn 62 than in the previous month, due to increases in deaths from lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Risk factors for these conditions include lack of exercise and smoking. In 2018, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College released a study that found that working longer is associated with lower mortality, diabetes, and depression risk for both men and women.
- Maintain cognitive function
As the saying goes, “use it or lose it.” Mentally challenging activities (such as those often associated with employment) help keep your brain alert. Put another way, retirement can accelerate cognitive decline. In 2017, the Whitehall II cohort study looked at cognitive function up to 14 years before and 14 years after retirement and found that declines in verbal memory were 38% faster after retirement compared to before, after taking into account normal age-related decline. Based on data from the U.S, England, and 11 European countries, economists Susann Rohwedder and Robert Willis found that retirement significantly reduces cognitive function.
- Stay socially connected
Although it seems counterintuitive, when people retire, they often feel more socially isolated. Retirees initially assume they will spend more time with friends and family, but in a paper titled Work, Retirement, and Social Networks at Older Ages, the authors found that retirement actually reduces social networks and interactions. Those who stay in the workforce interact daily with colleagues, form friendships and establish a network of social support. In terms of health, it’s important to stay socially connected. According to an article in the BMJ Journal, people with few social connections or who feel lonely have 29% higher risk of heart disease and 32% higher risk of stroke. And findings from the Social Relationships and Mortality Risk study show that the lack of social relationships is as much a risk factor for death as smoking or obesity.
Beyond the overarching health benefits of postponing retirement, there’s another factor that can have a huge impact on your health: work-life balance. Many workers retire because they no longer want to juggle stressful workloads, doctor appointments, family care commitments, and an inflexible 8-to-5 schedule. With companies like WAHVE, workers have the best of both worlds – the ability to reap the rewards of staying in the workforce while working from home. When workers feel balanced and happy, they are more productive and take fewer sick days. You might even say that WAHVE’s reimagined approach to retirement saves lives.