Month: April 2016
If you’re contemplating retirement, you’ve probably given a lot of thought to its impact on your finances. But have you considered how retiring might affect your health?
The latest in the debate over whether retirement improves or worsens health appears in the current issue of The Journal of Human Resources. Its conclusion: “Results indicate that the retirement effect on health is beneficial and significant,” writes Michael Insler, an assistant professor of economics at the U.S. Naval Academy.
The boost to your health is comparable to reducing the risk of being diagnosed with diabetes by 25%, for those of retirement age, Insler concludes.
Better Health Behaviours
In an interview with Next Avenue, Insler acknowledged that his conclusion “in some sense is counter-intuitive,” since, he says, a common notion is that “oh, people retire and they kind of lose their will to go on.”
If retirement does benefit health, why is that so? “I think the obvious hypothetical answers to that question are health behaviours,” says Insler.
Retirees have more time to invest in their health, he writes in the Journal. “It may be easier for them to quit smoking or to be more physically active when not burdened by the work-week grind.”
Insler based his findings on an analysis of data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, which surveys a representative sample of 26,000 Americans over age 50 every other year.
He found that of the respondents who ever reported smoking, about 69% reported doing so in the survey that took place two to four years before they retired. But only about 56% said they were still smoking two to four years after they retired.
Insler also found that people were more likely after retirement to exercise vigorously for at least 30 minutes three or more days a week. Two to four years before retirement, about 48% of survey respondents said they exercised that much; that proportion increased to nearly 52% two to four years into retirement.
Same Data, Different Conclusions
But what if you really love your work? Might not retirement make you “lose your will to go on,” as Insler put it?
“Job satisfaction isn’t really something that I looked closely at,” he says. “It could be part of the story.” But, Insler says, “It’s less about your stress and satisfaction and more about the time you devote to your health upkeep.”
Although Inas Rashad Kelly and her co-authors used the same Health and Retirement Study data as Insler did, their analysis reached a different conclusion. In a paper published in 2008, they found that retirement affected health adversely.
The fact that their conclusions based on the same data set diverged from Insler’s “points to the complex and multifaceted nature of the issue at hand,” Rashad Kelly, an associate professor of economics at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, told Next Avenue.
Social Security Age
Retirement’s negative effect on health was especially strong among people who were forced, or encouraged, to retire and those who said they weren’t particularly enjoying their spouse’s company, Rashad Kelly and her co-authors found. But the effect was weaker among retirees who said they voluntarily retired, had stressful jobs, remained physically active and continued to socialize.
Economists trying to assess the ramifications of raising the age at which retirees can begin collecting Social Security are especially interested in whether health improves or declines in retirement.
If retirement exacerbates common, expensive health problems, then raising the eligibility age for Social Security might make sense. Such a move could help encourage people to work longer, reducing the strain on Social Security and Medicare. If health tends to improve after retirement, however, then getting people to continue working by raising the eligibility age for Social Security might reduce expenditures for that program but shift them to Medicare.
“We conclude that raising the retirement age for Social Security purposes may not have been such a bad thing,” Rashad Kelly says. “Yet we certainly do not propose altering the age one begins to receive much-needed health care through Medicare, and our results do not suggest that Medicare costs will go up on average if people work longer.”
Insler emphasized that it’s difficult to predict the health effects of retirement on individuals. “I’m trying to calculate an average impact for a population,” he says. “Does it mean it will necessarily happen to them? No.”
Enjoying mental health means having a sense of well-being, being able to function during everyday life and feeling confident to rise to a challenge when the opportunity arises. Just like your physical health, there are actions you can take to increase your mental health. Boost your well-being and stay mentally healthy by following a few simple steps.
- Connect with others.Develop and maintain strong relationships with people around you who will support and enrich your life. The quality of our personal relationships has a great effect on our well-being. Putting time and effort into building strong relationships can bring great rewards.
- Take time to enjoy.Set aside time for activities, hobbies and projects you enjoy. Let yourself be spontaneous and creative when the urge takes you. Do a crossword; take a walk in your local park; read a book; sew a quilt; draw pictures with your kids; play with your pets – whatever takes your fancy.
- Participate and share interests.Join a club or group of people who share your interests. Being part of a group of people with a common interest provides a sense of belonging and is good for your mental health. Join a sports club; a band; an evening walking group; a dance class; a theatre or choir group; a book or car club.
- Contribute to your community.Volunteer your time for a cause or issue that you care about. Help out a neighbor, work in a community garden or do something nice for a friend. There are many great ways to contribute that can help you feel good about yourself and your place in the world. An effort to improve the lives of others is sure to improve your life too.
- Take care of yourself.Be active and eat well – these help maintain a healthy body. Physical and mental health are closely linked; it’s easier to feel good about life if your body feels good. You don’t have to go to the gym to exercise – gardening, vacuuming, dancing and bush-walking all count. Combine physical activity with a balanced diet to nourish your body and mind and keep you feeling good, inside and out.
- Challenge yourself.Learn a new skill or take on a challenge to meet a goal. You could take on something different at work; commit to a fitness goal or learn to cook a new recipe. Learning improves your mental fitness, while striving to meet your own goals builds skills and confidence and gives you a sense of progress and achievement.
- Deal with stress.Be aware of what triggers your stress and how you react. You may be able to avoid some of the triggers and learn to prepare for or manage others. Stress is a part of life and affects people in different ways. It only becomes a problem when it makes you feel uncomfortable or distressed. A balanced lifestyle can help you manage stress better. If you have trouble winding down, you may find that relaxation breathing, yoga or meditation can help.
- Rest and refresh.Get plenty of sleep. Go to bed at a regular time each day and practice good habits to get better sleep. Sleep restores both your mind and body. However, feelings of fatigue can still set in if you feel constantly rushed and overwhelmed when you are awake. Allow yourself some unfocused time each day to refresh; for example, let your mind wander, daydream or simply watch the clouds go by for a while. It’s OK to add do nothing’ to your to-do list!
- Notice the here and now.Take a moment to notice each of your senses each day. Simply ‘be’ in the moment – feel the sun and wind on your face and notice the air you are breathing. It’s easy to be caught up thinking about the past or planning for the future instead of experiencing the present. Practicing mindfulness, by focusing your attention on being in the moment, is a good way to do this. Making a conscious effort to be aware of your inner and outer world is important for your mental health.
- Ask for help.This can be as simple as asking a friend to babysit while you have some time out or speaking to your doctor (GP) about where to find a counselor or community mental health service. The perfect, worry-free life does not exist. Everyone’s life journey has bumpy bits and the people around you can help. If you don’t get the help you need first off, keep asking until you do.