Some see early retirement as the kiss of death, but one study has shown this to be a myth. Retiring early can actually lengthen your life.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Health Economics found that for men over 54, retiring early meant that they were 42% less likely to die during the following five years than those who stayed in the workforce.
The study looked at Dutch civil servants but did not factor in women as there were too few who met the requirements for early retirement.
The potentially life-extending effect of early retirement is explained by the researchers in two ways.
Firstly, retirement removes the stress associated with work. Retirees in the study were far less likely to succumb to stress-induced conditions such as hypertension and therefore less likely to die from cardiovascular diseases or a stroke.
Secondly, retirement was found to make it easier to exercise more, get enough sleep at night, and generally live a healthy lifestyle.
It also meant that those who had an illness or condition were able to take the time to get it treated properly.
However, retiring early is no panacea, and there are significant benefits to having a job too. This is epitomized by the advice of the Japanese longevity expert who lived to 105.
His advice: “Don’t retire.”
Working often provides people with a sense of purpose and social belonging and can help to maintain an active lifestyle. Research has shown that working for longer can have health benefits, including a lower risk of dementia.
Finding a balance
So what works best? It might be a mix of retirement and some work, or at least a commitment to something outside the house that replaces work.
Should you retire early, the responsibility to take care of yourself should not be overlooked. Those who succeed in early retirement have the discipline necessary to make the best of their freedom.
This means leading a healthy lifestyle and replacing the purpose and camaraderie found through employment.
Some experts recommend “downshifting” or taking on part-time work so that you can cover expenses as you ease into a more relaxed lifestyle.
Some retirees also choose to volunteer or find a role in the gig economy.
Jacquelyn James, co-director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work, recommends that to replace some of the benefits of work you continue to educate yourself, even in retirement.
“We have found that work stimulates cognitive development to the extent that work is engaging and also challenging,” she told the Washington Post.
“I think we used to think that doing crossword puzzles was the best way to keep our cognitive ability alive and developing and I think we’re seeing that it takes more than that. It’s much more important to do things that challenge the mind, like learning a new language, or learning a new technology.”