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Published on November 30, 2015

Thinking about retiring early?

Thinking about retiring early?

While retirement may be enticing during those long days on the job, staying in the work force may actually help us stay healthier.

A new report in Preventing Chronic Disease, a publication from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates that those who continue working are actually healthier than those who retire. The results were surprising even to the authors of the study, who began it in order to determine whether delaying retirement may be leading to an increase in chronic disease in the workplace.

The report included face-to-face interviews with approximately 83,000 seniors over 15 years. Researchers discovered that employed older adults tend to be healthier both physically and mentally. Those in the most physically demanding occupations had the lowest health risks of all. The researchers surmise that being physically active is the key to the participants’ health.

That theory did not surprise Anna Marie Espiritu, MD, of Bramblebush Primary Care in Falmouth.

“I think a sedentary lifestyle is not only bad for the older population, but for everyone regardless of age,” she said. “Also there are studies that have shown that cognitive decline is more rapid in people who are sedentary or who become sedentary when they retire. That’s the reason I encourage my patients to stay active as much as possible, not only physically but mentally.”

Some of the other benefits of working include more social interaction, higher income and access to better health insurance through an employer. Dr. Espiritu says that her patients who are still working do so because they don’t want to be idle and they enjoy being useful.

“Social interactions play a more significant role in the older population because they suffer more losses than gains,” she said. “Friends and family members pass away: they attend more funerals than birthdays. It’s also harder for them to find new friends or start a new connection.”

To combat that, she always encourages her patients to do things like:

  • Attend community events
  • Volunteer at their church, hospital or in their community
  • Attend local plays and concerts so they can meet new friends with similar interests.

Despite the recent findings, Dr. Espiritu estimates that between 95 to 98 percent of her patients are retired, and she hasn’t seen any ill effects on their health, other than what is expected as a result of the aging process.

Dr. Espiritu believes that if older people want to keep working and enjoy it, it can be a positive thing. But more often she sees the opposite – those who want to retire but are forced to keep working. This often results in depression and a decreased quality of life.

“I think a lot of people are just waiting to retire and no longer enjoy working,” she said. “Some continue to work even though they want to retire because money is thin.”

Even though she encourages activity, Dr. Espiritu says that we have to keep in mind that when people reach the fourth quarter of their life, the aging process makes it more difficult for them to do so.

“There are a lot of factors contributing to a sedentary lifestyle with the aging population,” she said. “For example arthritis, lung problems, dementia, osteoporosis and balance problems including vertigo. I think most of them would choose to be active but the aging process limits them to do so eventually.”