Vitality

Work Hard, Live Longer? Early Retirement May Up Your Risk Of Early Death

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Retiring early could spell trouble for your health. Pixabay Public Domain

For many people, work is a drag. Sitting in a cubicle can get dull and repetitive, but more physical jobs can lead to exhaustion. Customer service can drive even the most level-headed people to frustration, and high-stress management jobs are just that — stressful. For many, the thought of retirement is a comforting one, a dream of days that consist of nothing but elderly leisure. According to new research out of Oregon State University, though, you may not want to retire and move to Florida just yet.

The findings indicated that working past age 65 could actually extend your life, while retiring early may be a risk factor for earlier death. The team found that healthy adults who waited only one more year to retire had a lower risk of death from every cause after health issues, lifestyle, and demographics were taken into account. Even adults who described themselves as unhealthy reaped benefits from a delayed retirement, which indicates factors besides health affect post-retirement mortality.

“It may not apply to everybody, but we think work brings a lot of economic and social benefits that could impact the length of their lives,” said Chenkai Wu, lead author on the study, in a statement.

Wu took a personal interest in the health effects of retirement partly because of China’s highly controversial mandatory laws, which set an age at which workers have to retire. Wu said retirement age is an issue for debate all over the world, including the United States.

“Most research in this area has focused on the economic impacts of delaying retirement,” he said. “I thought it might be good to look at the health impacts. People in the U.S. have more flexibility about when they retire compared to other countries, so it made sense to look at data from the U.S.”

Wu and his colleagues analyzed data collected through the Healthy Retirement Study, which included more than 12,000 participants. Wu narrowed his focus to 2,956 people who had retired by the end of the study period in 2010. The researchers hoped to eliminate a bias in terms of unhealthy individuals retiring early, so they divided the participants into healthy retirees, who said health was not a factor in their decision to retire, and unhealthy ones, who indicated health was an issue.

During the study period, 12 percent of the healthy and 25.6 percent of the unhealthy retirees had died. However, healthy retirees who worked longer had an 11 percent lower risk of death, and unhealthy retirees had a 9 percent lower mortality risk.

“The healthy group is generally more advantaged in terms of education, wealth, health behaviors, and lifestyle, but taking all of those issues into account, the pattern still remained,” said Oregon Associate Professor Robert Stawski. “The findings seem to indicate that people who remain active and engaged gain a benefit from that.”

Stawski said more research is needed to understand the link between health and employment length.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Stawski said. “We see the relationship between work and longevity, but we don’t know everything about people’s lives, health, and well-being after retirement that could be influencing their longevity.”

Source: Wu C, Odden M, Fisher G, Stawski R. Association of Retirement Age with Mortality: A Population-Based Longitudinal Study Among Older Adults in the USA. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 2016.

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