How to embrace early retirement

Not having to get up early for work or take orders from a boss you don’t really like, while still being young enough to do the things you’ve always wanted to do, sounds like a dream come true – doesn’t it?

But while some aspects of early retirement are appealing, there’s no getting away from the downsides – particularly the drop in income and the lack of meaning and social contact.

A new report by the LV= wealth and wellbeing monitor estimates more than 150,000 (3 per cent) of 55 to 64-year-olds have retired early because of the pandemic for a variety of reasons: redundancy and income cuts, wanting to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus, reassessing priorities in life because of COVID.

But, if you’re plunged into early retirement, what’s the best way to embrace it and make use of what could be more than 40 years of living?

1. Learn something new
Dr Alan Potter, a researcher with Long Life Learning, says learning is a great way to help people make the most of early retirement. “When people retire early, they’re often retiring from jobs that involve lots of decision-making and learning really helps the brain to adjust from having a very demanding life, to having a large portion that’s much less demanding,” he says.

But while learning can be academic, with exams at the end, there are plenty of things you can learn that are practical – such as reading a book on DIY – learning a language, taking up a hobby, or simply learning about your environment by exploring your local area.

“Learning can build wellbeing and help us feel good about ourselves,” says Dr Potter. “You can become better informed, for example, about your health, so you can make wiser choices – there are many ways you can learn.”

2. Have a plan

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It’s all too easy to let the days drift away when you have no job to get up for, and without having any plans, you can start to feel aimless or even useless. So, plan your days.

“When you’re in a work situation, the challenges are normally external, but once we retire, that doesn’t happen – any challenges or plans we make, have to come internally,” says Dr Potter. “That’s one of the biggest changes people have to make when they retire. If you don’t structure the day and the way you approach it, then any problems you have can linger for 24 hours and affect things like sleep.”

“Depression and stress can come with retirement, particularly at the moment when you don’t have access to other people, or as much professional help as you might have got in the past. So, people need to look at ways they can help themselves. At the moment, that’s about setting yourself much smaller goals and not expecting too much of yourself. And as we get out of lockdown, your plans can expand.”

3. Get a part-time job you enjoy
If you’re worried about money, remember you can always get a part-time job for a couple of days a week. Once life gets back to normal after the pandemic, you could work in a coffee shop or a pub, for example, where you’ll earn a bit of money and get to talk to plenty of people, too.

4. Maintain social contact
At the moment social contact is limited, nevertheless, it’s crucial to make sure you don’t spend your retirement feeling lonely. “It’s important to create social capital by talking to people, exercising, going to the shops and having a group of people you have regular contact with,” stresses Dr Potter.

5. Enjoy the reduced stress

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For many people, working involves at least some degree of stress, so the beauty of retirement is you don’t have that external stress, and that can be really good for you. In fact, research suggests retiring from work is good for your health, mainly because there’s less stress, and more time to exercise and sleep. Mental health often improves in retirement, and a 2002 study of British civil servants found retiring at 60 had no negative effects on physical health, and the mental health of those who retired from higher-level jobs improved, possibly because they no longer had to deal with work-related stress.

6. Exercise more

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If you’ve taken early retirement, there’s no excuse for not getting fitter. Resting is rusting – and if you’ve retired early, you’re not old yet – so keep your body as young as possible for as long as possible, by keeping it moving. Hit the gym, exercise at home, do online classes or go running. But don’t forget to get a medical check before you begin a moderate to vigorous exercise program – although you’re not exactly old, you’re not as young as you used to be, and it’s sensible to make sure your body’s in good working order before you start getting out of breath.

7. Sleep more
Although you do need to have some structure to your day, that’s not to say you can’t have plenty of lie-ins too. Getting lots of sleep means you’ll have enough energy to do all the other things you can plan now.

8. Travel

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While you can only make plans for travelling at the moment, once the pandemic is over you can visit the places you’ve always wanted to – assuming your pension and savings allow it. And because there’s no work to get back for, you can stay away for as long as you like.

Did you take early retirement? What are your favourite and least favourite things about being retired?

– With PA

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YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.
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