A number of studies – including one by Dhaval Dave, an associate professor of economics at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts – have proven that a sedentary retirement can have adverse effects on people’s health. Between 1992 and 2005, Dave examined the health data of 12,000 Americans and found that those who retire completely see a five percent to 16 percent increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activities in the six years after retirement, and a five percent to six percent increase in illnesses like heart disease, stroke and arthritis. “For the average individual, retirement leads to some adverse impacts across the board in terms of physical and mental health,” says Dave.
A big reason why people get sick after they retire, say researchers, is that work is one of our most stimulating activities. Most of us get the majority of our cognitive and social stimulation at our day jobs, says Dave. We also get a lot of physical activity too, even if it may not seem like it – you get a lot more exercise walking to work or even from the parking lot to the office than sitting in front of the TV. Once you take away the job, many retirees are faced with a less active lifestyle, both physically and mentally. “It’s the old adage, use it or lose it,” says Dave.
Plan to Be Busy
To stay healthy and happy, retirees need to stay active, and it’s that part of retirement planning – the keeping-busy part – that most prospective retirees forget about. In some ways, figuring out what you’re going to do in your golden years is more important than ever before. In 1960, the average life expectancy in Canada was 71. Today, it’s 81, which means many baby boomers are staring down two decades or more of retirement. “This is one of our longest life stages, yet we tend to do the least amount of planning on what that might look like,” says Eileen Chadnick, a certified professional coach and founder of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto. “We’ve all heard too many stories of parents and grandparents who retire and start to wilt and fade. We need a certain amount of stress for our brains to be able to operate efficiently. When we start to feel marginal, it’s bye-bye mojo, bye-bye thinking capacity. We lose our sense of self.”
We need a certain amount of stress for our brains to be able to operate efficiently.
When Chadnick sits down with prospective retirees, she takes a page from the financial planning industry and urges them to create a “diversified retirement portfolio.” A healthy portion of this portfolio’s asset mix, says Chadnick, should be pursuits that contribute to growth and self-actualization: consulting work, going back to school, joining a corporate, non-profit or community board, acting as a mentor to younger professionals, or signing on with an outfit like the Canadian Executive Service Organization, which sends retired and semi-retired professionals to 40 countries worldwide to share their skills. You also need to include pursuits that are purely pleasure-based, like hobbies, travel, family and social activities.