Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Early retirement may be hazardous to your health

A doctor has come to believe that most people just plain do better, both intellectually and physically, when they continue to work.

Americans are hard-wired to consider retirement age to be 65. Social Security, under a formula established in the 1930s when the average age at death was about 15 years earlier than it is today, reinforced that idea. And now that retirees can begin collecting Social Security and/or pensions before they turn 65, a growing number of people leave the workplace even earlier.

As a geriatrician, I've come to believe that working longer is generally a good thing. Most people just plain do better, both intellectually and physically, when they continue to work. I've observed many times that mature patients who quit working — whether they have been laid off or retired voluntarily — are likely to gain weight, become hypertensive and even develop depression.

These tendencies have been substantiated by research. One 2007 study, for example, found that "retirement was associated with a significantly higher odds for a decline in physical activity." TheWhitehall II study, a longitudinal examination of British civil servants, found that continuing to work may reduce the risk of cognitive decline. And a recent study by the Rand Corp. and the University of Michigan found that "men and women in countries where people worked longer did better on a test of cognitive skill involving memory than those in countries where early retirement was the norm."