A new study conducted at the University of Sydney, in Australia, was published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Researchers discovered that after retirement, people sleep better, and become more active (reducing their sedentary time).

Australian Study

The study involved 25,000 seniors who agreed to allow their lifestyle changes, after retirement, to be observed and documented. Areas that were evaluated included, alcohol use, sleep patterns, diet, and activity level.

According to Dr. Melody Ding, Senior Research Fellow at the University’s School of Public Health, “Our research revealed that retirement was associated with positive lifestyle changes.” “Compared with people who were still working, retirees had increased physical activity levels, reduced sitting time, were less likely to smoke, and had healthier sleep patterns. “A major life change like retirement creates a great window of opportunity to make positive lifestyle changes — it’s a chance to get rid of bad routines and engineer new, healthier behaviors.” she said.

Study Results

The study concluded that retirees, increased their physical activity by ninety-three minutes per week, lowered sedentary time by 67 minutes per day, and increased sleep by 11 minutes per day. In addition, half of the smokers, in the study, quit smoking.

“The lifestyle changes were most pronounced in people who retired after working full-time. When people are working and commuting, it eats a lot of time out of their day. When they retire, they have time to be physically active and sleep more,” said Dr. Ding. “In terms of sedentary time, the largest reduction in sitting time occurred in people who lived in urban areas and had higher educational levels,” she added.
Dr. Ding’s research was inspired after her mother was forced to retire at age 55—due to common Chinese regulations. Ding’s hope was to inspire people to be positive about their golden years. “We hope this information could translate to better health in older Australians, preventing cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” she said.

Harvard Health Report on Retirement

Although the Australian study involved mostly positive results for the participants, who improved overall lifestyle after retirement, a recent Harvard Health report says early retirement can come with some challenges. “During that phase of going from a lot of structure to almost no structure, men can exhibit the same signs as someone who is overworked,” said Dr. Randall Paulsen, a psychiatrist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

According to Harvard Health, partners of those in retirement may need some time to adjust to changes. “If you have a partner at home who is not used to you being around all the time, there has to be a recalibration,” says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Staying Active

Identifying engaging activities that challenge you a bit (not too easy, but at the same time, not too difficult) is important after retirement. “We grow and keep our brains alive by being engaged with things that challenge us,” Dr. Miller says.

“A moderate amount of stress lights up our brain circuits and focuses our attention; an overload can do harm. The sweet spot is the stuff that’s just outside your reach, where you have to work and concentrate,” says Dr. Miller. “Those are the kinds of challenges that help us feel alive and engaged.”
With more time afforded to retirees, it’s important to stay active. Too much or too little activity can lead to anxiety, memory impairment, insomnia, appetite loss and depression, says Harvard Health.

Conclusion

So, whether retirement is good for a person’s health, as it turns out, is up to the individual. People can take to heart what the Australian study findings revealed (and take advantage of extra time afforded retirees) while challenging themselves and staying active, like Harvard Health psychiatrists recommend, or simply choose to settle into their comfort zone– and do nothing. The choice is completely up to you, but if you plan to live well past 100, you probably want to take this information to heart.


Resources
1. Science Daily. (2016, March). Retirement is good for your health. Retrieved https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160311105229.htm

2. Harvard Health Report. (2017). Retirement blues: Taking it too easy can be hard on you. Retrieved https://www.health.harvard.edu/mens-health/retirement-stress-taking-it-too-easy-can-be-bad-for-you