Is retirement bad for your health? What do people do after they retire? Do people get lonely? What are some things that can make retirement better? These are some of the things I’ve been asking myself as I reflect on my goal of early retirement / financial independence.
Thinking about retirement makes me think about my parents. My parents are getting to the age where they could be retiring soon. My dad has spent most of his life running a coffee shop / snack bar in state office buildings in Rhode Island. He regularly gets up around 4am and usually ends his work day around 4pm. He absolutely loves his job and says he never wants to quit. He enjoys talking to the customers, and he knows almost all of them by name from the sound of their voice (he’s blind). My mom, on the other hand, wants to retire as soon as possible. She’s been delivering mail for the USPS for most of her life, and it has been taking a toll on her body. She slips on the ice and falls down almost every winter now, and climbing stairs with a sack full of mail is becoming more difficult every day. I’m really thankful for how hard they’ve worked and for the work ethic they’ve instilled in me and my siblings. Maybe it’s time they take a break and retire.
But what would they do after they retire? I’m not too sure.
I don’t spend too much time with the elderly, but here’s how I imagine a lot of them spend their time:
- playing golf
- gambling at the casino
- going on cruises
- waking up early and meeting friends for breakfast
- continuing to work
- living in a nursing home
- watching TV
Let’s get back on topic. Is retirement bad for your health?
I give credit to Mr. 1500’s post as my motivation for writing/researching about possible drawbacks to retirement. At one point, his parents got into a cycle of Eat/TV/Sleep/Repeat, and their health began to deteriorate. They’ve since changed their lifestyle and things have improved. Being relatively young, I’ve always thought that getting to the point where I wouldn’t have to work anymore would be awesome. But maybe I’m wrong. Let’s explore some drawbacks to retirement.
Higher risk of heart attack. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health looked at rates of heart attack and stroke among men and women in the ongoing U.S. Health and Retirement Study and found that those who had retired were 40% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who were still working, with the increase being more pronounced during the first year after retirement and leveling off after that. The paper describes retirement as a “life course transition involving environmental changes that reshape health behaviors, social interactions, and psychosocial stresses” that also brings shifts in identity and preferences. Some people make a smooth transition into retirement while others don’t. In fact, retirement is ranked as 10th on the list of life’s 43 most stressful events (1 and 2 are death of spouse and divorce, respectively).
Increased risk of depression and taking medication. Another study found that retirement affects people in the following ways:
- reduces a person’s likelihood of being in excellent or very good health by approximately 40% (self assessed)
- raises the risk of developing clinical depression by about 40%
- raises the risk of developing at least one diagnosed physical condition by approximately 60%
- raises the risk of taking medication for that diagnosed condition by about 60%
Loneliness. Working usually meant getting out of the house every day and seeing people. If your social life was tied up with your work, retirement can take it all away. Without forging a social network, retirees can get lonely, and this can affect both their mental and physical health.
Immobility and Inactivity. Without something forcing people to get up and out the house, there may not be anything causing a retiree to be active and mobile. Again, a sedentary lifestyle can be detrimental to both your physical and mental health.
Lack of purpose. Without anything to do, the days can seem very long and life can feel meaningless. Having something to do, even if it’s not the most enjoyable thing, can give people purpose where retirement may take that away.
Stress. In addition to retirement potentially being detrimental to your health, other factors may cause additional stress that affect your health as well. For example, if your spouse doesn’t want to retire at the same time or if you misjudged your financial situation and have to go back to work, you may experience additional stress.
So what can we do to make retirement better and more enjoyable?
Establish a social network. You may lose your social network at work. Establishing a new social network will have positive benefits to your mental and physical health.
Keep learning. Use it or lose it. Your mind needs to stay active to keep your brain healthy. Keep reading books, take classes, or pick up a new hobby. Learning should be a lifelong activity.
Get out and play. Sitting in the house all day can make the days feel dreadfully long. Get out and do something active or meet with people. Volunteering or getting involved in different activities with others can help establish new friendships and reinforce old ones.
Be creative. Try something you’ve never tried before or have always wanted to do. This will also keep your brain healthy, and you may discover something new about yourself as well.
What did I take away from all this?
Exploring the topic of life after retirement has been an interesting learning experience. I feel that there is a huge difference between early retirement and financial independence. Early retirement to me means quitting my day job and not working anymore. Financial independence to me is not having to work for money but being open to working if I want to. My goal still is to be financially independent by 2025, but I realize that making early retirement purposeful and enjoyable will take a lot more thinking and reflecting. I think I will still continue to work at something, but it will be because I want to and not because I have to. I thought about some things I want to do after I achieve financial independence. This list may and will probably evolve, but here are some of them:
- possibly continue working at the USPTO in a part-time status
- visit all the national parks with my family
- teach my son how to play baseball and tennis and other sports
- go hiking with my family
- train for an Ironman triathlon
- cook more and eat healthier
- read at least 1 book every month
- help feed the homeless
- continue blogging about personal finance
- help people get out of debt
- go to law school (maybe?)
- send my wife to art/design school if she still wants to go
Hopefully, that should keep me busy enough. If we have more kids, I’m sure that will take up a good chunk of time as well. What I’ve taken away from all this is that, like many things in life, retirement will only be what we make of it. It can be good or bad, but that will all depend on the choices we make now and the choices we make later.
What are some things you’d like to do when you retire?