December 3, 2009

Retirees Feel Younger

Retirement is good for your health. In fact, if your work life has been stressful, you are likely to feel much better after you retire. According to one study, it's like turning the clock back eight years

Retirement is good for your health. According to a new study in the journal The Lancet, the recently retired report feeling so much healthier than they did at the ends of their careers that it’s like turning back the clock eight years.

Researchers led by Hugo Westerlund at the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University followed 15,000 French participants for as many as seven years both pre− and post−retirement. Health reports tended to decline prior to retirement, but they rose considerably after this milestone. People who said they were in poor health before retiring represented about 19% of the participants, but this number dropped to about 14% in the year following retirement. This lower level, 14%, hadn’t been seen since self−reports eight years earlier.

...[T]he recently retired report feeling so much healthier than they did at the ends of their careers that it’s like turning back the clock eight years.

The effect of retirement on people’s health was even greater for those who reported that their health was particularly poor before retiring, and for those who rated their work conditions lower than others.

Although the majority of the participants were men, the findings did hold for both sexes, and were observed across various professions and for up to seven years post−retirement.

“The results really say three things,” says Westerlund. “That work puts an extra burden on the health of older workers, that the effects of this extra burden are largely relieved by retirement and, finally, that both the extra burden and the relief are larger when working conditions are poor.” He adds that “there is a need to provide opportunities for older workers to decrease the demands in their work out of concern for their health and well−being.”

The same team recently published another study that found a connection between retirement and sleep quality, which intuitively go hand−in−hand. “Sleep improves at retirement, which suggests that sleeping could be a mediator between work and perception of poor health,” says Westerlund.

Whether the findings of the current will hold true for Americans is unclear. Westerlund says that the stressors associated with retirement in the States might actually negate its benefits: “It may well be that for many U.S. workers, retirement means a substantial increase in financial stress, which could counteract the positive effects of the removal of work stress at retirement, resulting in no improvement, or even a worsening, of perceived health.”

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