Retirement after working full-time may be very good for your health, according to a new study at the University of Sydney in Australia. Compared to people who are still in the workforce, retirees are less sedentary on a daily basis, get more sleep, and are more physically active overall.
The research, which followed the lifestyle behaviors of 25,000 older Australians, shows that retirees decreased their sedentary time by 67 minutes per day, increased sleep by 11 minutes per day, and increased their physical activity levels by 93 minutes a week. Furthermore, 50 percent of female smokers quit the habit.
“Our research revealed that retirement was associated with positive lifestyle changes,” said lead researcher Dr. Melody Ding, senior research fellow at the university’s School of Public Health.
“Compared with people who were still working, retirees had increased physical activity levels, reduced sitting time, were less likely to smoke, and had healthier sleep patterns. 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 behaviors,” she said.
The findings remained even after adjusting for factors such as age, sex, urban/rural residence, marital status, and education. There was no significant link found between retirement and alcohol use or fruit and vegetable consumption.
“The lifestyle changes were most pronounced in people who retire after working full-time. When people are working and commuting, it eats a lot of time out of their day. When they retire, they have time to be physically active and sleep more,” she said.
“In terms of sedentary time, the largest reduction in sitting time occurred in people who lived in urban areas and had higher educational levels.”
Ding’s own mother was her source of inspiration for the study. “My mother still lives in China and they have mandatory retirement for women at age 55. When she turned 55 she was really anxious about stopping work — she felt like she was not as valuable. So I thought I’d like to find some positive information about retirement.
“She now spends her days enjoying so many hobbies, she can’t remember how she had time to work.”
Ding hopes the research will encourage people to view retirement in a more positive light.
“Retirement is a good time for doctors to talk their patients about making positive lifestyle changes that could add years to their life. The findings suggest that both health professionals and policy makers should consider developing special programs for retirees to capitalize on the health transitions through retirement,” Ding said.
The findings are published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine.