Posted on 02 April 2024

​We go and work for most of our lives, savouring holiday and time off with our families when sat at our desk for years and years. But all of a sudden, the time to transition away from a working life is sprung upon us, and many people are left with a question – ‘what now?’. However, it’s vital one does not stop work and a working schedule and simply do nothing, as there are many links between activity in work and a cessation of activity after retirement and premature death. Scientists posit that working and having a sleep/wake routine are beneficial to cardiovascular and mental health, and the cessation of these activities after retirement have been linked to death soon after retirement regardless of age. The theory is that the body is used to working and having a routine, and the benefits of this going away after retirement mean that the body is not ‘going’ anymore and, when retirement is not taken in a healthy way, a decrease in the Health span of retirees is seen.

However, a study in 2020 showed that early retirement was not associated with a higher risk of mortality but retiring at the median age of 70 as a marker was associated with a higher risk of mortality, which might reflect what is known as the healthy worker effect. It has been shown that retiring at exactly age 62 increases the odds of dying prematurely by 12 percent – demonstrating that employment is correlated positively with the health worker effect. It is also contested that early retirement increases lifespan because of reduced stress and anxiety which negatively effect cardiovascular health with high blood pressure and other aggravating factors which can provoke cardiovascular events. It seems, however, that status of employment and the height of employment status has a mediating effect on this. This posits that lawyers and those in higher managerial and professional classes have a life expectancy of nearly 19 years for males at age 65 yet those in less economically fruitful work such as labourers and cleaners have a shorter life expectancy at 65 of just 15 years.

Given the above, maintaining positive life practices post-retirement are paramount. This includes making sure one keeps up with physical activity, a good diet and good social relationships after working finishes, as retiring without a plan to keep healthy may resign someone to the sofa for years and their health will suffer as a result, something owed to skewing the above data with the healthy worker effect. Retiring in stages, such as gradually winding down the days worked over years will help the transition and ensure one does not simply wake up one day and stop working. Many of the social connections we make as workers is through work, and keeping up with these when not being part of a company or office are paramount. Often, retiring early can pose as a ‘crisis of meaning’, where individuals who have worked their entire life with purpose and a reason why, suddenly may be left with a philosophically ambiguous question, ‘what do I do now, with the rest of my life?’. Below are a few examples of things you can do to ensure you’re walking into the next chapter of life healthy and happy for years to come.

Have a financial plan – don’t stop working to then still be worried about money. Have a financial plan long in advance of your retirement to cover your cost of living and expenses and only retire when it is financially viable.

  • Step down slowly into retirement – as you approach your age of retirement, begin to work more flexibly or set up a working arrangement to take days out of your working week, even towards part time work.

  • Be prepared for good and bad – just as work is highs and lows, personal lives are too. Ensure you’ve got good habits, hobbies and activities you can transition to to fill the void of not working and having a career as a professional.

  • Eat well – don’t overindulge, as you’ve likely been eating well and working with a relatively healthy diet. It may be time to smell the roses, but becoming obese post retirement from over indulgence is associated with premature death.

  • Develop a routine – just as work gives you a routine, set a routine you can follow that is realistic and relaxed, there is no point transitioning to an equally as stressful routine post work.

  • Keep your mind sharp – keep reading or take up puzzles, games and mind enhancing activities to ensure conditions like dementia are kept at bay for longer into retirement.

  • Keep physically active – don’t stop working and sit on the sofa. Keep active, exercise with friends and do a little each day to ensure your exercise load is similar to that as when you were working.

  • Make a bucket list – think about how you want to spend your time, what you want to experience and achieve and make sure you have things to look forward to.

  • Maintain social connection – do not let yourself become isolated as this will negatively affect your mental health and make a happy retirement more difficult to achieve.

  • Leave work in the past – make peace with your work achievements and close the chapter of that book.

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