WELCOME to our 3-Part series on the benefits of working longer! Benefits, you say? You betcha! Here, (Part 1), are some of the physical and mental health benefits…
When you first start your career it feels like you’re opening up a book, knowing that when you get to the end of that book there will be a happy ending: retirement! While many people embrace full-retirement after decades of work, there are others taking a different path and continuing to work (in some capacity) during their “retirement” years. Everyone has their own motivations and circumstances but it’s hard to deny that there are some big advantages to working longer.
In our 3-part series, we’ll look at the benefits of working longer with regard to health, financial security, and happiness. Here we examine how continuing to work in your later years can help you live healthier, live longer, and stay mentally sharper. Who knew?
Work benefits health
Now I know what you’re thinking: how can a reduction in work stress combined with increased leisure activity result in mental or physical decline? Well, have you ever heard the phrase “use it or lose it”? Our minds and bodies sure have, and there’s loads of research backing it up. One study looked at just the first six years after retirement and found that “complete retirement leads to a 5-16 percent increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activities, a 5-6 percent increase in illness conditions, and 6-9 percent decline in mental health.” We’re thinking YOU don’t want THAT kind of decline, and yes, there are ways to stop it. But let’s examine why it happens in the first place.
When most people envision their retirement, they picture themselves being more physically active, eating better, and jettisoning work-induced stress. People think, “why wouldn’t I be physically healthier when I have more time focus on myself?” While this is definitely true for some people (kudos to them), the reality is more of a mixed bag. In fact, on average, leaving work results in an overall decrease in physical activity. Despite the sedentary nature of many desk-jobs, most people are even less active when they retire! Additionally, many have hard time improving positive habits like a healthy diet and moderating negative habits like alcohol consumption.
These conclusions might seem counterintuitive, but it all has to do with routine. Humans are creatures of habit and when we’re working we tend to fall into predictable routines. Maybe your work routine isn’t ideal, but most people have a routine that works. However, when people retire, that established regimen disappears, and many people have a hard time regenerating familiar patterns. This wholesale lifestyle change can be a great thing for your health, but it’s important to understand that there are potential pitfalls. Working longer is an easy shortcut to keeping yourself physically healthy and an increasingly popular choice these days.
If you were surprised that physical health can be a challenge in retirement, you’re probably less surprised about mental health. In a study spanning the US and Europe, researchers found that “early retirement has a significant negative impact on the cognitive ability of people in their early 60s”, while another study concluded that “decreased social interactions reduce cognitive stimulation”. Not only does work keep us mentally engaged by virtue of our job-related tasks, it also generates crucial social stimulation.
The social aspect of work is perhaps the hardest to replace, especially if you without a long-term partner. Doing mental work, interacting with coworkers on the job, and socializing with coworkers outside of the workplace all act to keep your brain active and engaged. Just like the rest of your body, your brain needs craves activity and social interaction to stay healthy!
Working later in life isn’t the only way to stay mentally engaged and physically active, but it is a great hack to keep yourself “in shape”, both physically and mentally. Without proper planning and effort, it’s possible to lose the edge you enjoyed during your career, and there are a ton of different avenues you can pursue to continue “working” in retirement. Finding a fulfilling vocation, with a time commitment of your choosing, can be the key to increasing your lifespan, and healthspan!