How working can extend your life
13 May, 2016
Working in our retirement years can lead to a more contented, happier life. It turns out that working longer can also extend our lives.
Not everyone will jump for joy at this notion. For a lot of people retirement at 65 is a target — the start of a carefree, halcyon lifestyle and a well-earned reward for years of hard work.
For others, working beyond 65 is not too thrilling a prospect as the expectation throughout their working life has been that life really begins when you retire.
Of course, working past 65 is an economic reality for many. To fund their desired lifestyle, many find they need to keep working for a year or two (or longer) to build on their investment assets. The combination of longer life expectancy and low investment returns means the retirement assets we previously expected to fund our day-to-day living are no longer sufficient. A few more years of earning, after turning 65, can make all the difference.
Whether we continue to work beyond the retirement age by choice or by economic necessity, the latest findings reinforce the wisdom of doing so (and maybe make it easier to stomach).
According to a study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the risk of dying from any cause was 11 per cent lower among people who delayed retirement for one year — until 66 — and fell further among people who retired between 66 and 72. Even those workers who retired for health reasons had a lower risk of dying compared with those who left work at 65.
The study suggests postponing retirement may delay the natural age-related decline in physical, cognitive and mental functioning, reducing the risk of chronic illness.
Researchers at Oregon State University analysed data from 2,956 people over a period of approximately 18 years. Retirement age ranged from 55 to 77 years old. Compared to retiring at age 65, workers who retired in good health at 67 had a 21 per cent lower risk of dying. By age 70, the risk was 44 per cent lower and at 72 it was 56 per cent lower.
Another study by a University of Miami epidemiologist (a scientist who studies diseases in populations) monitored 85,000 adults aged 65 and older. It found people who kept working were nearly three times as likely to be in good health compared to those who had retired.
White collar and blue collar workers still on the job were less likely to report chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer and all reported better mental health compared to those who were retired or unemployed.
The scientists were not specific as to why working in retirement years led to better health and increased longevity — but the data was conclusive.
A lot of the theory seems to rest on our emotional wellbeing at 65 and beyond. We know from other research that retirees who stay happy throughout retirement are generally those who have a sense of purpose, doing things they truly love and feel passionate about.
If we have to, or choose to, work beyond 65 perhaps the secret is doing so with the right mindset.
Approaching our retirement years being passionate about working, or not working, might be all that's required to ensure happiness and a longer life.