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  • Deborah Moyer

Can Working Longer Keep You Healthier?

Have you ever thought about the possibility that retirement could be detrimental to your health?

We’ve been taught to work hard at saving for retirement, the Holy Grail, when we can finally do what we want and have a little fun.

It holds an expectation that our lives will be better, easier, and healthier than what we might be experiencing during our career years.

But, is it?

The Reality

After watching my parent’s experience with retirement, and many others in their age group that I’ve known throughout the years, I’m not so sure.

A lot of those expectations just didn’t work out the way they thought they would.

Once they got past the first months of not having to adhere to a firm schedule, things got…well, boring.

They started having difficulty remembering what day of the week it was and the days just seemed to run together.

They struggled to get excited about their days and all that freedom they were looking forward to, just began to feel tedious.

For some of these retirees, serious illness showed up out of nowhere just as they were about to make their dream of traveling the world a reality.

The worst part was that many felt they had lost their sense of purpose and the part of their identity that went with it.

They asked, “So, what now?”.

What's Next?

Many people entering retirement have this same experience, and let’s face it, it can be pretty unsettling to feel adrift when you’re used to a faster-paced, productive lifestyle.

So, why is their new reality, and the Shangri-la retirement vision they had been working so hard to achieve, so different?

Well, many recent studies have started to indicate that retirement may not be the wonder tonic of happiness for everyone that it’s been made out to be.

In fact, statistics have indicated that people who retire often return to the workforce in some capacity within a relatively short time.

Many choose to work, full-time or part-time, where they’re able to follow their passions, instead of returning to their previous career. Many start their own businesses.

Taking a New Path

In fact, did you know that Baby Boomer retirees currently make up a whopping 41% of small businesses or franchises in the US?

A new study done by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College examined Dutch workers in their mid-60’s who were given an additional financial incentive to work long past the typical retirement age.

Then they measured the longevity of those participants over time. The data showed that the Dutchmen who worked at ages 62 to 65 were less likely to die over the next five years than men of the same age who weren’t working.

Another study, done by the University of Michigan, corroborated this saying the majority of people in their study reported that they expected to continue working in some capacity well after age 65.

It’s natural to assume, of course, that this might have been driven by economic necessity. That they needed the money to survive.

But, while money was one of the factors that motivated them, it was not the primary reason.

The other primary reason? It kept them healthier and more engaged in life.

Time to Train Your Brain

More and more data is showing now that staying active, both physically and mentally, has a direct impact on our aging process and staying healthier longer.

One of these studies included a set of test subjects, aged 65 or older, who had to undergo 10-hour brain-training sessions over a 5 to 6-week period.

They focused on the primary skills of memory, reasoning, and the speed that a person processes information.

Turns out that the people who took the training not only showed improvement in these skills, the improvement continued to last for at least another 5 years or more.

It helped them improve at everyday tasks like managing money, staying more organized and focused, as well as keeping up with day-to-day chores like housework and other projects.

Other Benefits

The researchers concluded that a decline in our aging process can be accelerated later in life if we aren’t constantly flexing our mental muscles.

In fact, cognitive afflictions, like dementia and Alzheimer’s, had delayed onset or at least significantly slowed, when the patient was actively learning new skillsets.

Interestingly, this may be one of the reasons that scientists have seen a link between Alzheimer’s and people with lower levels of education.

But why?

Research has found that keeping the mind active may:

1. Reduce the amount of brain cell damage that happens with Alzheimer's

2. Support the growth of new nerve cells

3. Protect the brain by strengthening connections between cells

4. Encourages them to send cell messages more often

Shifting to a New Paradigm

Yes, aging is inevitable. But, I’d like to throw out two questions to you.

1. Are we doing ourselves harm by buying into a belief that the natural process of aging will automatically mean we lose our ability to stay mentally and physically active?

2. Does the misperception of retirement as the quintessential yellow brick road to Oz somehow aid in that process?

If these premises are true, more and more researchers, doctors and scientists are saying we’re due for a significant cultural paradigm shift.

What You Can Do Now

So, if you’re at or approaching retirement age, or you’re already retired, what can you do to get back on track to improving your mental and physical agility and longevity?

Scientists recommend the act of learning as the go-to tool to reenergize your brain's ability to fend off effects from aging.

If going back to work isn’t enticing, maybe that means learning a second language, taking on a new hobby that requires technical or artistic skills, or increasing participation in strategy games with friends and family.

If you love puzzles, they are a great source to stimulate your brain and memory skills. How about playing video games that require improving your hand-to-eye coordination?

Reading, writing, or signing up for adult education classes is another great way to learn and express yourself too.

They all work to ramp up your brain which benefits the health and well-being of your entire body.

Increasing your physical activity also promotes better brain function by boosting circulation, enhancing your mood, and kicking up your energy level.

It all works together to improve the longevity and quality of your life and that’s something we’d all like to enjoy, right?

So, until next time, my friend, as I always say…stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!