Retirement is among the most important shifts in one’s life. Despite essentially a universal happening, its effects on a wide range of aspects, from sociological and psychological to medical aspects, are complex and far from being clear. Is the retirement process actually healthy? At least when this process occurs in an abrupt manner, as it works in almost every social security system in the world, is it any healthier? The board-certified and Ph.D. endocrinologist Flávio Cadegiani MD, MSc, Ph.D., CEO and medical director of Corpometria Institute – Center for Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases, the first Latin American Center for Obesity Prevention, explains the relationship between health and retirement.
According to Dr. Cadegiani, correlations between retirement and health outcome heavily depend on the type of labor performed, particularly whether the retiree was a blue- or a white-collar worker, and whether the effects are on mental health and/or physical health. First of all, it has been extensively demonstrated that in general, those who have preexisting diseases, retirement can lead to worsening of the disease control, increase of its complications, and increased disease-related mortality.
Overall, mental health seems to be more affected than physical health. Particularly in men, typical symptoms of depression become more evident or start to come out a short period after the retirement, even in those who retire later in life. Among the factors that most influence mental health outcomes, those related to the level of financial security, including the assurance of receiving a minimal sufficient amount of income to afford basic living needs, is by far the fundamental aspect of the retiree’s quality of life.
In fact, retirees with meager earnings and those who do not have social and leisure activities tend to die much sooner. Even simple social interactions, light leisure activities, which promotes the sense of belonging, are able to greatly reduce public health expenditures with this population, which already naturally demands so much in this regard.
Along with security-related concerns, family dynamics have a turnaround change after one’s retirement, as the spouses will start to constantly live together. In many cases, long term relationships largely depend on a healthy, effective frequency, and the sudden lack of moments apart may turn out to be unfeasible, which eventually leads to many divorces at a later stage of life.
A massive number of other physical and mental consequences of retirement have been reported. However, in common, studies show a high variety of outcomes, as the way each person deals with the hasty beginning of a long idle period of time. Some jump for joy, especially those who have the opportunity to travel frequently, had planned oneself for post-retirement life, and continue to live life dynamically.
For the vast majority who did not arrange plans for the post-retirement life, a lack of specific policies for an appropriate preparation for this life change, such as a gradual reduction in workload or a multidisciplinary approach prior to retirement, can trigger numerous depression-related conditions during this period.
While the scientific data on health effects of retirement is sparse and inconsistent and public policies focused on this population barely exist, the number of retirees is growing exponentially worldwide, and is a matter of great concern of social, familial, psychological, and health perspectives. So we need to talk about it. After all, these are not people that should simply be left aside at home and forgotten. Moreover, most health and psychological consequences are possibly due to the current system of retirement. Perhaps changes in this process towards an individualized approach, according to one’s self-perceptions of what better fits for his/her case, may flatten issues related to inappropriateness regarding the way society handles with retirement.
Elders do deserve a due rest after decades of hard working. But this needs to be with quality. We urgently need to create a variety of programs and options in which they can feel joyful, entertained, and even useful (as many would rather be). Becoming part of the large volunteering network, learning new skills, having the freedom to choose among a broad number of activities, being exposed to thought-provoking discussions with active participation, or anything else that unearths true emotions and adrenaline to life, with consequent improvement of self-perceived feeling of aliveness, is key for a healthy retirement, even regarding social and familial circles.
Rather than discussing the minimum age or time of contribution for retirement, we must focus on the health of those who will retire, and how they will spend their lives afterwards. Noteworthy, virtually all the information I’ve presented in this article comes from scientific studies, not from a personal opinion or observation through experience.
It’s time to engage health providers, scientists, and the general community to start thinking, researching, discussing, and proposing ideas for this. For the sake of our elders, who deserve nothing else but the best.
About Corpometria Institute
First Obesity Prevention Institute in Latin America