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The health risks of retirement.

Chronic health conditions, boredom and a lack of purpose. It’s no wonder that we are not fans of retirement.

By: Martin Thomas

How long do you plan to continue working? Are you looking forward to the mornings when you can ignore the clarion call of the alarm and avoid an unhealthy lifestyle of stress, commuting and hurried meals in front of a keyboard?

In some ways the lockdown restrictions -,especially for those lucky enough to be able to work from home – has become a version of semi-retirement.  No last-minute scramble for an ironed-shirt; no soul-destroying commute on a packed train; no mid afternoon snacks to get you through yet another meeting. When we return eventually to a more conventional working pattern of commuting and offices – yes, those days will return, despite the predictions of some employment experts – will it encourage many of us (who can afford it) to contemplate retirement?

Be careful what you wish for.  Studies across Europe have shown that the average effects of retirement on people’s mental and physical health are negative. Retired people tend to do less exercise – despite plans to conquer mountains, run marathons and take-up pilates – and drink too much. These lifestyle changes increase the risks of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

This is not to say that some people do not benefit from retirement.  The evidence suggests that leaving stressful, demanding jobs can benefit people’s mental health, whereas leaving a ‘good’ job delivers no immediate health dividend.  It is also apparent that even when people benefit from an initial removal of work-related stress, these benefits are rarely sustained.  Eventually the reality dawns that retirement is a bit dull. You have more time to travel, see the grandchildren and maybe give something back to the local community by volunteering, but is this enough?

Studies have shown that people’s sense of self-worth suffers in retirement. This seems to be a particular problem for retired men who suffer from the loss of workplace social networks. Loneliness has been exacerbated by lockdown, but was already a problem for many older people. Volunteering can fill the social gap for some, but as we have argued previously at High50, it is far better for the individual and society that they have remunerated, tax-generating work.

In a brutally competitive , post pandemic job market, that will be especially tough on those at the beginning and end of their careers, finding a new job in your 50s and 60s will be hard. The siren-call of retirement will be tempting. But hold fast. Keep searching and applying and maybe even decide that this is the time to start out for yourself. 2.2 million over 50s in the UK have already set up their own businesses. Starting out won’t be easy, but when you think of the alternative, what have you go to lose?