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.
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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?