Study: Retirement good for health

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Here's some information you may wish to have on hand when compiling marketing materials for prospective senior living residents: People become more active, sleep better and reduce their sitting time when they retire, according to a new study published online ahead of print by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“A major life change like retirement creates a great window of opportunity to make positive lifestyle changes,” said lead researcher Melody Ding, Ph.D., a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney School of Public Health. “It's a chance to get rid of bad routines and engineer new, healthier behaviors,” she added.

Ding and colleagues studied the lifestyle behaviors — physical activity, diet, sedentary behavior, alcohol use and sleep patterns — of more than 25,000 older Australians.

“Our research revealed that retirement was associated with positive lifestyle changes,” she said. “Compared with people who were still working, retirees had increased physical activity levels, reduced sitting time, were less likely to smoke and had healthier sleep patterns.”

Specifically, the data revealed that retirees:

  • Increased physical activity by 93 minutes a week,
  • Decreased sedentary time by 67 minutes per day,
  • Increased sleep by 11 minutes per day and
  • 50% of female smokers stopped smoking.

The differences were significant even after adjusting for factors such as age, sex, urban/rural residence, marital status and education. No significant association was found between retirement and alcohol use or fruit and vegetable consumption.

Ding said retirement gave people more time to pursue healthier lifestyles. “The lifestyle changes were most pronounced in people who retire after working full-time,” she said. “When people are working and commuting, it eats a lot of time out of their day. When they retire, they have time to be physically active and sleep more.”

In terms of sedentary time, researchers found that the largest reduction in sitting time occurred in people who lived in urban areas and had higher levels of education.

Ding said her mother's experience of retirement triggered her interest in conducting the study.

“My mother still lives in China, and they have mandatory retirement for women at age 55,” she said. “When she turned 55, she was really anxious about stopping work. She felt like she was not as valuable. So I thought I'd like to find some positive information about retirement.”

Ding said that her mother now has time to enjoy many hobbies. “She can't remember how she had time to work,” she said.

Ding said she hopes the research will encourage people to think positively about retirement.

“The findings suggest that both health professionals and policymakers should consider developing special programs for retirees to capitalize on the health transitions through retirement,” she said.

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