Considering retirement? Working might keep you healthier

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As baby boomers reach retirement age, more are opting to continue to work, whether for economic reasons, or because they simply like to work. That employment can provide more than a paycheck -- working, it seems, has pretty good mental and physical health benefits as well.

A new study in this month’s issue of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology examined data on 12,189 retirees from the Health and Retirement Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. The first four waves of the study (1992, 1994, 1996 and 1998) were included, in which people age 51 to 61 were surveyed about their health, finances, employment history and current work or retirement.


The researchers coined the term ‘bridge employment’ to describe the transition period between full-time work and full-time retirement, in which people work part time, are self-employed or temporarily employed.

Men and women in that bridge employment category reported fewer major diseases and functional limitations compared with those who were in full retirement. Mental health was better as well, but only for those who kept working in their previous careers. Those who chose a different career path didn’t show the same benefits. Choosing another career, the authors believe, could prove stressful while people adjust to new roles and a new workplace. Also, some who choose new jobs do so out of financial need, which may add additional stress.

In the study, the authors wrote: ‘when the retirees engage in bridge employment, they are likely to keep their levels of physical activities and mental activities through daily work. In addition, working after retirement increases retirees’ role embeddedness, which has been shown to benefit health maintenance.’

Going into full retirement, they add, could lead to less social contact and fewer daily activities, perhaps making them less likely to fight off major diseases and more likely to see a decrease in daily function.

In a news release, co-author Mo Wang of the University of Maryland said, ‘Given the economic recession, we will probably see more people considering post-retirement employment. These findings highlight bridge employment’s potential benefits.’

-- Jeannine Stein