For years, we’ve heard dismal statistics about retirement and health. Keep working as long as you can, we’re told, because people who retire tend to see their health status plummet in the years to follow. The purported increased risks included poor heart health and increased risk for depression.
Fortunately, we now know that for most people, the opposite is true. People who retire tend to be healthier—and happier—after they take the plunge.
Why did earlier studies get it so wrong? One reason is that many lumped data from all retirees together. But some people have to retire because of failing health, so not accounting for this fact made it seem that retirees overall were less healthy than their peers who continued to work. Once the less-healthy must-retire folks were not driving the results, a rosier picture emerged.
When researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research, for example, analyzed data on around 6,000 Americans over age 50, they found that health status got better after retirement for those who retired simply because they became eligible for Social Security or pension benefits. Since many people, even those in good health, retire when they become eligible for benefits, they were able to measure the impact of retiring for reasons unrelated to health. Even more promising—health status continued to improve, so it was better four years later compared to the first year of retirement.
Life satisfaction improved, too.
A TIME TO GET HEALTHIER
A new Australian study sheds light on how retirement may improve health. Researchers followed 27,000 Australians over age 45, tracking their lifestyle habits over about three years, during which time about 11% retired. Compared to those who kept working, the retirees…
• Got about 52 minutes more physical activity a week.
• Spent about 40 minutes less in sedentary pursuits.
• Slept about 15 minutes more a night.
These stats include everyone who retired. But when the researchers looked closer, they found that those who retired for health reasons still improved their health habits a bit—but not nearly as robustly as those whose health was not the prime reason for quitting work.
IF YOU CAN AFFORD TO RETIRE, WHY WAIT?
Some people love working and never want to quit. Others think they’ll love retirement but end up finding themselves bored stiff—or lonely and depressed. Some take to drink. In short, just quitting work won’t make you healthier and happier, and it’s not the best choice for everyone—even if you can afford it.
But the new research does suggest that retiring when you can best enjoy the time will likely lead to a healthier and happier time of your life.
To paraphrase the old song, it’s nice not-work if you can get it.
To learn more about the best ways to retire successfully, see Bottom Line’s 9 Worst Retirement Regrets (Many You Can Still Fix) and 7 Secrets from a Retirement Coach.