Is retirement a health hazard?

Volunteers for the Lismore Botanic Gardens at work

With our baby boomer population bulge and with longevity increasing, it is inevitable the demands on our health services will significantly increase. Baby boomers are already entering their seventieth years.

Many will have already retired or are preparing to do so. Some of those will be happy to be out of the workforce, while others would have preferred to work on longer, but this opportunity may not have been open to them.

So what are the health implications for retirement, and what is the difference between a healthy versus an unhealthy life after work ceases? GPs who listen to patients who have recently retired may have heard a number of scenarios.

Some retirees reveal it is a fantastic time of life and that they have never been busier. Others will do a lot of travelling that previously they may not have had the time to do. But some of this group may find that after these pleasurable trips, boredom sets in. This can happen to people from all walks of life, including those in previously busy professional occupations.

Without solutions to reduce the unexpected lack of purpose in life, the anxiety and low mood can lead to other risk factors for health

It is well known that boredom can lead to loss of self-esteem or anxiety and depression during this time of adjustment. Without solutions to reduce the unexpected lack of purpose in life, the anxiety and low mood can lead to other risk factors for health. Examples are weight gain from poor diet, physical inactivity, excessive consumption of alcohol, smoking etc.

For some, particularly if living alone, a concern is loneliness and social isolation which can also lead to mental ill health and subsequent physical health problems.

The primary health care needed for people who are bored and/or lonely is more related to community support rather than pharmaceutical solutions. The challenge for GPs and the allied health professionals they work alongside is how to address these social issues. This is even more difficult if the patient is more focused on their physical rather than psychological symptoms.

If there is one useful piece of advice for a retired patient, it is the need for social interaction. It doesn’t matter what type of social connection this is but the lack of it can be a health risk. Ideally social connection should involve physical and mental activities. This could be achieved by joining a local Men’s Shed group, playing golf or perhaps joining a choir. Other possibilities would be to volunteer for a needy community cause.

Volunteers for the Lismore Botanic Gardens take a lunch break.

The issue for general practitioners maybe a lack of knowledge as to what community group is available for people to join. Neighbourhood or community centres are possible resources for such information and activities chosen obviously need to be tailored to a patient’s abilities, past experience and interests.
Retirement does not need to be hazardous to health and there are some strategies that are vital for maintaining physical health and psychological wellbeing.

Obviously lifestyle choices such as healthy food and drink choices, regular physical activity, adequate sleep and keeping the brain active are important.

Having retired, the initial relaxation and fun things like travel initially provide shorter term hedonic pleasure. However a more sustained wellbeing is obtained from eudaimonic pleasures.

Eudaimonia comes from the Greek word ‘eu’ meaning good and ‘daimonia’ basically meaning human flourishing or spirit.  To achieve this type of wellbeing one needs to look at activities that provide a sustained sense of achievement like going to a course or learning a new skill.

Anything that leads to personal growth, autonomy, self acceptance, positive relationships, development of one’s best potentials and a strong purpose in life will all lead to psychological wellbeing.

These goals are likely to be present in those who say that since retirement there are not enough hours in the day. With our fastest growing age group now 65 years and over we need to encourage a sustainable healthy and fulfilling retirement which could last for decades.

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