Retirement has mental health benefits, in that depression and fatigue risk goes down considerably, but the risk of respiratory disease, heart disease and diabetes remains unchanged, say scientists from Stockholm University, Sweden, in the BMJ (British Medical Journal). As people are living longer and many appear to be retiring later, the findings of this study may have implications for many individuals, the authors write.

Retirement is one of life’s major milestones, the researchers explain. However, studies have revealed conflicting evidence regarding the benefits and drawbacks linked to retirement.

Dr. Hugo Westerlund and team observed study participants for 15 years, including approximately 7 years before they retired, and about 7 years after – a total of nearly 190,000 observational years. The study involved 11,246 males and 2,858 females from a large French cohort study. They were studied from 1989 through 2007. This study is based on annual yearly measurements over a very long time, the authors write, making it much more meaningful than previous ones.

The majority of the participants were either middle class or higher. 89% of them were married. 72% of them retired at 53 and 57 (inclusive) years of age, the rest were retired by the time they had reached 64. 25% of them had experienced depressive symptoms during the twelve months leading up to their retirement. 7% (728) of them had been diagnosed with either a respiratory disease, heart disease, stroke or diabetes.

Single individuals and those in lower employment grades were more likely to suffer from physical tiredness, but not mental fatigue.

The researchers found that retirement is associated with a considerable drop in mental and physical fatigue rates. Depressive symptoms also went down, but less than mental and physical fatigue. Chronic disease rates did not drop after retirement. The authors note that chronic disease are more linked to age.

The authors wrote:

    “If work is tiring for many older workers, the decrease in fatigue could simply reflect removal of the source of the problem … furthermore, retirement may allow people more time to engage in stimulating and restorative activities, such as physical exercise.”

They concluded:

    “(our findings) indicate that fatigue may be an underlying reason for early exit from the labour market and decreased productivity, and redesign of work, healthcare interventions or both may be necessary to enable a larger proportion of older people to work in full health.”

Alex Burdorf, a professor in the determinants of public health in the Netherlands, wrote in an Accompanying Editorial:

    “(This study) is unique in that annual health measurements were carried out several years before and after retirement.”

As the findings contradict what previous studies had revealed, Burdof says further research is required:

    “It is too early to make definite claims about positive and negative benefits from retirement at a particular age.”

“Effect of retirement on major chronic conditions and fatigue: French GAZEL occupational cohort study”
Hugo Westerlund et al
BMJ 2010; 341:c6149 doi: 10.1136/bmj.c6149 (Published 23 November 2010)

Written by Christian Nordqvist