Do you want to improve your health, live longer and feel happier? Then retire.
A new study shows that retirement is good for your health and wellbeing. When people stop work it makes them more active. They do less sitting, which readers of this column will know is a health risk. They even sleep better. At least that was the experience of 25,000 retired Australians surveyed in a landmark study by Sydney University.
Unfortunately, few people are can respond to this confirmation of the benefits of retirement with a snap decision to quit work. Like any watershed in life, retiring requires advance planning. It may not be possible to retire as soon as you would like, usually due to financial constraints.
So before all those retirement health benefits kick in it may be a good idea to take up another activity, one that also has proven health benefits: anticipation.
Anticipation is a cherished pastime of My New Old Self, and one enjoyed ever more with age. I have mentioned how I like knowing the details of an upcoming event in advance so I can milk every drop of anticipation. Hence my enthusiastic response to recent studies showing the benefits of anticipation to health and wellbeing.
As has also been discussed in this column, anticipation plays a big role in the enjoyment of an activity that could be seen as a form of temporary retirement: a holiday. Most of the happiness derived from a vacation actually comes from anticipating the trip, according to recent Dutch tourism research.
So I am going to apply the research findings about the benefits of anticipating holidays to the recent validation of the benefits of retiring. When it finally happens, retirement will be physically beneficial, but why not start enjoying its psychological benefits now? All you have to do is to start looking forward to it.
“A major life change like retirement creates a great window of opportunity to make positive lifestyle changes. It’s a chance to get rid of bad routines and engineer new, healthier behaviours.”
– Dr Melody Ding, Sydney University School of Public Health, lead researcher on “Retirement—A Transition to a Healthier Lifestyle?”, American Journal of Preventive Medicine
Therefore this stage of anticipating retirement should be a time to consider what we want to do when we eventually retire. How do we plan to fill our days when we no longer have to wake up and get to work? It’s worth thinking about in advance.
If anticipating an upcoming vacation brings enjoyment, anticipating retirement should be similarly pleasurable. This kind of anticipation could involve thinking back on our lives to recall what we used to like doing. Or what we have always wanted to do. When people stop working they often pick up old hobbies, or even try something new. So sit back, relax and think about what you have enjoyed in the past, and what you might enjoy doing in the future.
The Sydney University study reportedly revealed that retirees:
- Increased physical activity by 93 minutes a week
- Decreased sedentary time by 67 minutes per day
- Increased sleep by 11 minutes per day
- 50 per cent of female smokers stopped smoking
Having trouble imagining yourself with your feet up longterm? You’re not alone. A recent US study by Northwestern Mutual showed that the majority of people expect to fill their retirement days with more work. They say they can’t afford to stop earning so they can’t imagine not working.
The saddest finding, for me, was that only 68 percent of those not yet retired anticipate being happy when do. This despite the fact that 80 percent of those already retired said they were happy in their retirement, like this inspiring retiree.
“I have more time in my retirement and I am happily busy. I keep fit by dancing four times a week and walking. I keep my mind active by involvement in the University of the Third Age, teaching computer skills and dancing to the oldies, most of them are younger than me. My answering machine message is ‘I am out enjoying my retirement.”
– Retired bank manager, 89 years old
So perhaps a bit of anticipation therapy is in order. Even if you expect to still work after retiring from your current job, you could do some anticipating about what you’d like to do in your future free time. You’re bound to have more leisure time than before, no matter how your retirement years pan out.
This kind of anticipation could prove therapeutic as you move into the inevitable next phase. For even the most determined “I’ll-never-retire” hold-outs will one day find themselves retired. Unless they drop dead on the job and never make it to retirement. Which isn’t something I will happily envision as I anticipate what my future holds.
If your retirement seems too far ahead to anticipate now, then here’s a recommendation you should be able to implement right away. Catch some shut-eye. Seriously, if you want to experience some of the benefits of retirement but can’t yet retire, then up your nightly sleeping time.
That’s because getting seven hours a night of sleep has been shown to significantly lower the chance of dying of heart disease, in a study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology.
“When researchers include adequate sleep in their studies as a cardio-preventive behavior change, they find that it lowers the chance of dying from heart disease even more: Adding a good seven hours a night of sleep in addition to making positive changes in diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol intake lowers the chance of dying of heart disease by a whopping 83%.
So instead of stressing about when we will be able to retire, we should concentrate on being well rested. That could help us live long enough to one day join the ranks of the retired. And then, research shows, we will sleep even better.