Retire before 65 and reap benefits

I met an old friend last week and asked her if she was still working. Her firm and confident response was: “No. I’m retired.” It was said with such conviction that I felt very envious. She had made a decision and was obviously happy to leave the workforce behind.

Why is it so easy for some and a tortuous journey for others?

If you are still working your way through the process, a University of Sydney study, Retirement – A Transition to a Healthier Lifestyle, might help.

The study followed 27,257 working Australian adults for more than three years. During that time, more than 3000 retired. Of that group, 47.2 per cent retired because of age or lifestyle reasons, 20.5 per cent because of a lack of job opportunities, 17.4 per cent due to health problems and 5.6 per cent to take care of a family member or friend.

The aim of the study was to assess retirees’ journeys from a health perspective by measuring key factors including smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, diet, sedentary behaviour and sleep.

Writing in The Conversation, Melody Ding, University of Sydney senior research fellow of public health, said the study showed that those who retired before 65, those who worked full-time prior to retirement and those who retired voluntarily benefitted more from retirement when lifestyle was assessed.

Retirement may not automatically lead to better health, but it presents an opportunity to engineer a healthier lifestyle, she said.

“This is consistent with previous research, which suggests the lifestyle changes associated with retirement transition differed by various factors, such as reasons for retirement, pre-retirement lifestyles and circumstances,” she said.

The study found that over the assessment period, retirees did an extra 94 minutes of physical activity per week. They were less sedentary, reducing sitting time per day by 67 minutes. They were more likely to get a healthy amount of sleep, gaining an extra 11 minutes. And half the female smokers quit smoking after retirement.

“Our finding about sleep duration is in line with a previous French study, which found people had less sleep disturbances after they retired,” said Dr Ding. “The mechanisms for the change are unknown, but we hypothesise that it might be due to the removal of work demands and stress, and having more time.”

She argues that retirement offers a unique opportunity to break previous – possibly less-than-healthy – routines and establish new habits.

If you are retiring soon or are struggling in retirement, she offers these tips:

  1. Embrace retirement. Rather than thinking about retirement as the end of a working life, consider it as the start of life after work with new freedom, opportunities and identities.
  2. Prepare for retirement ahead of time. Plan with key concepts such as health, leisure and enjoyment in mind. Pick up new hobbies, discover new passions, or reconnect with your old interests.
  3. Find a new role that makes your life meaningful, whether it is as a grandparent, teacher, volunteer or community organiser. Discover new identities within society, make new friends and stay connected.

The study concluded: “… retirement was associated with positive lifestyle changes. Health professionals and policymakers should consider developing special programs for retirees to capitalise on the healthy transitions through retirement.”

In the meantime, eat well, stay as active as possible, get healthy amounts of sleep, exercise the brain and make time to savour the moment.

Are you leading a healthier life post-retirement? Or do you intend to once you have retired?

Related articles:
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Why you should embrace ageing
Why grandpa did cartwheels up the hall

Written by Janelle Ward

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