Does work add meaning to your life? Or are you counting the months till you retire?
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Turns out early retirement may be bad for your health — unless you consider three factors.
A new study from Oregon State University shows a link between delayed retirement and improved survival. Looking at 3,000 people who retired before age 65 or at ages 66 or 67, survival was 11 percent higher among those working longer.
This held true whether people considered themselves healthy or unhealthy, or held white collar or blue collar jobs. The study accounted for a host of other socioeconomic factors as well.
Benefits of working longer
Why should working longer help you live longer? “Work can be a place of purposeful effort, meaningful social connections, physical activity and economic security,” comments psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD.
Adds preventive medicine specialist Raul Seballos, MD: “Work can provide intellectual stimulation and give you a sense of identity. When people ask what you do, you say, ‘I’m a teacher,’ or ‘I’m a doctor,’ instead of ‘I’m a husband,’ or ‘I’m a grandparent.’”
But working longer isn’t for everyone. It depends on whether your work is meaningful — and on your work environment. “If you’re in a high-stress job, working longer is for the birds,” says Dr. Seballos.
Three questions to ask
If you’re thinking of retiring and hope to stay productive and independent, Dr. Seballos suggests asking yourself:
- What will you do to stay socially engaged? You’ll need face-to-face interaction with other adults to avoid isolation.
- What will you do to stay intellectually stimulated? Along with engaging socially, stimulating your mind lowers your risk of dementia.
- What will you do to stay physically active? Exercise lowers your risk of chronic disease, and can ease aches and pains, boost mood, and more.
“When patients say they’ll start exercising when they retire, I say, ‘No, no, no — it’s never too late to begin,’” says Dr. Seballos. “If you’re generally healthy before you retire, you will stay healthy after you retire.”
If you own a business, Dr. Seballos poses a fourth question: What are you doing about a succession plan?
“If your kids aren’t interested in the business or the family is fighting about what happens after you retire, that creates stress,” says Dr. Seballos. If you decide to sell your company and share the profits with your children, for example, or create a board to run it, that will relieve your tension.
Commit your time wisely
Another thing to consider is whether retirement is on your terms or your employer’s. “Some of my patients are told to retire at 55,” he says. “Then the question becomes: What factors that created a sense of meaningfulness at work can you carry forward?”
Dr. Bea suggests choosing obligations and activities that fuel a sense of purpose. Whether it’s caring for grandkids or volunteering, “there’s more than one way up the mountain,” he says.
If your expertise is with a spreadsheet, says Dr. Seballos, you can share your knowledge by serving on a non-profit board or going back to teaching. But it’s important to be realistic about your time.
“Retirees are often asked to serve on non-profit boards, school boards and community programs. But they often think they’ll have more time than they do, especially if they want to travel,” he notes. “Don’t be afraid to say no.”
One of the best things about retirement: You get to decide how you spend your time.