"People who see themselves primarily as victims are doomed." -- Louise Erdrich, "The Sentence"

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Risky Business of Retirement

     It seems that retirement can be hazardous to our health -- both our physical and mental health.

     A recent study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College concluded that delaying retirement, by itself, reduces the five-year mortality rate for men in their early 60s by 32 percent. Delaying retirement also reduces the mortality rate for women, just not as much.

     So yes, women handle retirement better than men. But retirement can take its toll on anyone.

     One study from Ross Andel of the University of South Florida School of Aging followed a number of Australians over a 20-year period, starting in their 60s. The subjects were asked to remember random, unrelated words. The tests were repeated every four years. He found that people who were retired suffered greater memory loss compared to people of the same age who were still working.

     Of course, the explanation could be that healthier people with better memories tend to keep working, while those with health or mental problems go on to retire. But the answer is more likely that while we are working we face a series of challenges that keep us engaged. We solve problems, get some satisfaction from solving problems, perhaps feel like we've done something important. We take a guilt-free period of  relaxation (the weekend) and then go back to solve more problems. And solving problems keeps our minds in gear, keeps us sharp and focused.

     At least that's the theory put forth by Andel in his TED talk Is Retirement Bad for Your Brain?

     Another study looked at twins in Sweden who retired after age 50. They were followed for 20 years. The researchers found a significant decline in thinking speed after retirement. They also found a decline in verbal ability as well as spatial awareness.

Life is a gamble. Can you improve your odds?
     I retired in my mid-50s -- not voluntarily. So I should be a blathering idiot by now. However . . . I continued to do consulting and freelance work until just last year, as a part-time job. So maybe I'm not completely baked. Just half-baked.

     So what can we do about mental and physical decline after retirement? Andel suggests keeping active and engaged by participating in your family, doing some volunteer work, taking a course, finding an interesting hobby or a part-time job.

     My sister, who as the smart one in the family is a member of MENSA, plays a lot of bridge. It's a mentally taxing game that requires memory, tactics and intelligence. And studies have shown that there is a lower frequency of dementia among bridge players than non-players. 

     I have played a little bridge, but it's not really my game. B and I go dancing (at least in non-Covid times), and I've read that ballroom dancing helps us stay alert and alive. It provides some physical activity, social engagement and mental challenge -- you gotta remember those steps!

     Others say reading keeps our minds active and alert, as we're challenged by new ideas, new experiences -- or figuring out whodunnit in a mystery.

     My wife B and I both take classes at our retirement center. That helps us stay awake. During Covid I've been doing crossword puzzles. B has completed several jigsaw puzzles. I don't know if either of these really helps us stay sharp. But they've kept us busy.

     One person I know suggests adopting a puppy. Training a dog is a mental challenge by itself; plus you stay active by doing more walking, and you may improve your social life by meeting new friends and neighbors. 

      Any number of psychological studies have found that successful aging is linked to living a happy and productive life. As someone once said: Anyone who limits his vision to memories of yesterday is already dead. 

     So what do you do to stay sharp, to provide the sense of accomplishment you had when you were working or raising kids?


Olga said...

Use it or lose it applies to body, mind and spirit and for me all three areas have improved greatly in my retirement.

Mage said...

I read. I quilt. I take part in water aerobics...when I can get a reservation. I blog, and I read.

DJan said...

I subscribe to five newspaper/newsmagazines, do zoom yoga three times a week, read myriad blogs like this one, and write three blog posts every week. I read a lot of books, too.

Tom said...

Just saw this quote, a Tibetan proverb, which we can all aspire to: The secret to living well and longer is: eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure.

AWmom said...

We take cardio line dancing,back and balance classes.I take embroidery class.play bingo ,and do word puzzles
And read blogs, newspapers and books.My husband exercises and hour a day,takes drawing and painting class and loves to word puzzles.and solitary card games.we both play word play,connect the word.The first two semesters we did ceramics.There is so much more to do in retirement.

Arkansas Patti said...

Do lots of reading and a little blogging but do miss socializing with friends. Somehow phone calls don't stimulate as well.

Rian said...

In retirement, I read (a lot), write stories and blogs, sculpt with clay, sketch, knit and crochet, quilt, and used to walk 2-3 times a week (not so much these days). But I've never been much for games. Obviously my activities are solitary... hmm...mm, makes me more of an introvert I guess. I do enjoy being with family and friends... but not large groups. However, I feel it is important that we engage our mind, body, and soul in our activities.

Sue said...

Dear Tom and Friends, i plan to retire in two years. Keeping the mind active? It's amazing how even just reading a chapter in the Bible each morning goes a long way. One benefit to staying in the Word is: i don't have to waste any money on newagey drivel / buck ugly yoga pants

Jeanette said...

When I retired (more than 10 years ago!) I was advised by a trusted friend who is also a psychologist, to focus on cognitive outputs as well as enjoying cognitive inputs. The problem-solving we do in our careers involves cognitive outputs.

It is easy to spend time reading, watching movies, and (in the past) attending live performances of music or theatre. These activities mainly involve inputs. For successful ageing, we need activities that force our brains to produce something. Blogging, writing, playing music, drawing, and bridge are good examples of activities that involve cognitive output. Most of us feel better when we do something productive! Those endorphins from accomplishment never stop helping our brains.

Linda Myers said...

I read two newspapers, play handbells (before Covid), ride an e-bike, volunteer at an asylum seekers' shelter, take lifelong learning classes and volunteer as a tech host for that, attend online 12-step meetings, blog on occasion. My husband has a back issue which will require surgery, so I'm now picking up what he did before, including grocery shopping and cooking. I love to stay busy in mind, body and spirit.

Anonymous said...

Andel's Ted Talk is beyond helpful for us! Thank you for the link Tom.
Every so often something sticks for me and 1440 minutes (like 10,000 steps) is a keeper. Echoing Jeanette, being productive and/or creative seems to pack a bigger punch than passive activities that simply fill time. But many activities can be either passive or active, and it is up to us to engage.

Tom said...

I agree the concept of outputs is important. So is the idea of 1440 minutes. But what especially struck me in the TED talk is the notion of Friday afternoon -- for us to do something that matters to us, that is challenging enough to get that feeling of Friday afternoon excitement.

Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged said...

I had no desire to retire from life when I left work. Although sometimes I feel a little slower to make certain decisions, I keep very busy and engaged. My husband and I dance too (pre-Covid) so I'm happy to learn that it's not only great fun but good for our brains too!

Tom said...

We might get some outdoor dancing this summer!

Laurie Stone said...

I never plan to "retire" in terms of stopping writing. I'll always do that and it gives a focus to my life I seem to need. Funny, I still love Friday nights and Saturday mornings.

Rebecca Olkowski said...

As a perennial freelancer, all my life, retirement was never an option. I enjoy working even though some of my relatives think I should get a real job. I fear it's too late for that, at least in my own mind.

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Jennifer (UnfoldAndBegin) said...

My mother retired at 62 because working 3rd shift in a factory was taking a toll on her body. She lived until she was 99 but she was actively involved in many things. She did her daily crossword, read books, played bridge and cribbage, was involved in Amaranth, and met her friends weekly for cards and laughs. My father was a chef and retired at 65, did all the things on his Honey-Do list in three months (he thought it would last years) and then found a part-time job cooking. He didn't like to sit still. He kept that job for 5 years until he needed a wheelchair, but still kept active in the Masonic lodge and in Amaranth, playing bridge and cribbage, etc. He lived until he was 80. While not as long as my mother, he was 20 years older than his father was when he died and 60 years older than his mother was when she died.

I think the lesson is that as long as you're engaged in something that you love doing, that keeps you interested and learning more, then it adds to your years...that and laughter. I swear my mother and her girlfriends lived longer due to the laughter that erupted when they got together weekly.

Carol Cassara said...

Tom. I'd say you're pretty engaged in retirement! My expert assessment is you are in no danger of losing brain function.

Snowbrush said...

Tom, men are generally more frail and less resilient than women, plus they have fewer non-work-related social outlets. They are also more likely to keep their feelings bottled up, and, as they age, to be more likely to give in to feelings of anger related to intolerance. When their work life ends, their purpose in life often ends with it. I know that, in myself anyway, I have so related self-worth to physical ability that the loss of the latter has resulted in a serious hit to the former (I'm 72 but feel far older in relation to what I had expected to feel). Now, I want to say something unrelated to your post... Tom, I enjoy your well-written and informative posts, plus I look forward to your thoughtful and intelligent comments on my blog, but I have no idea that you read my responses to them. Many people don't, I' sure, but in your case, I'm to take the extraordinary step of asking that you read my latest response, which--as I write--is in the bottommost comment frame to my recent post. I am making this request due to a repetitious dialogue that we have literally been having for the last few years now (me moreso than you since you don't appear to come back to read responses). I understand that you might simply be leaving such comments in jest, but I can't tell for sure, and I very much want to know that I am not in the least disappointed in you.


Susan Zarzycki said...

Tom, I always enjoy your posts. I retired at age 55 and have never regretted it. I did miss being around my coworkers and we have lost contact now. I am 71 and have many hobbies but COVID has put a stop to my social life and an aged parent has kept me away often from hubby and family these past 5 years since my father died. I ow divide my time between 2 states, so I am glad to have my hobbies. My husband retired at 62, became bored and found a summer job that he enjoys. He still has it at age 75. He does have friends that he socializes with during the winter months though and COVID has not slowed them down. Different states, different rules. I love walking, crafts, reading, photography, British detective shows, the old comedy series and the list goes on. Tutorials on YouTube and Podcasts can keep me happy for hours if I have any free time. 🙂

Anonymous said...

I have been planning on retiring this December. My husband died suddenly Feb 25 2021. (Heart) I think I will still retire but of course this changes so much of what that was to look like. Had several nice trips planned and when covid calms down (if ever), I wanted to do some volunteer work with animal shelters. I am trying to focus now on my own health and moving forward. I know to stay active and engaged will be more of a challenge now , but will figure it out as I go. Sherry

Wisewebwoman said...

I stay mentally active, or try to.

I still design my own knitting patterns, highly mathematical but the Pandemic, evidenced by my blog post today, throws that into a bit of a curve, pun intended.

I play 14 games of Scrabble daily with the same bunch of Scrabble nerds for the last 15 years or so.

I read voraciously and don't have TV but do enjoy streaming.

Blog writing is great, and reading other blogs.


And so on.....


Kay said...

Like so many others, I read and I blog. Blogging is what I rely on to keep my brain working. I retired at 55 so I needed something to keep me engaged. My husband runs and constantly reads the news. The hard thing about the COVID lock down is not seeing friends and socializing which kept us engaged before. I did worry when we retired because my husband's father died 6 months after retiring.

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