"Sittin' here restin' my bones ... and this loneliness won't leave me alone." — from "Dock of the Bay," as performed by Otis Redding
All of us experience days when we wish we could say “Sayonara!” to the world of work: clean out our desk, throw a few keepsakes in a box, and wave goodbye to the unfortunate co-workers we leave behind. Who among us hasn't wanted to forget workplace tension, shift the difficult decisions to someone else, and forever eschew the small and sometimes not-so-small annoyances that accompany employment?
The good news about retirement is that then we can garden, golf, cook, canoe, kayak or fish, travel, sleep late, pick up grandkids from school, and generally do as we please more often. Unfortunately, we are also more likely to experience a decline in health.
Many blue-collar workers actually experience health benefits from retiring, particularly if the job was physically demanding. Or, if our job has been exceptionally boring or socially isolating, getting away from the workplace may actually bring an uptick in overall health.
For most of us, though, this is not the case, and a recent Wall Street Journal article by Richard Johnson addresses some of the health impacts associated with early retirement. Let's start with this: Men are 2% more likely to die the month they turn 62 than during the previous month. Because 62 is the earliest age Americans can accept non-survivor Social Security benefits, many use it as an opportunity to retire. The dangers? Upticks in lung cancer and chronic lung disease because we tend to sit around more when we retire.
OK, then, let's say we retire and avoid smoking and sitting, and that we stay active. We will still likely experience cognitive decline in our first few years of retirement. "The mental exercise that work provides seems to keep people sharp," Johnson said. "Learning new skills seems particularly important. By establishing ’cognitive reserves’ such activities may help the brain become more adaptable and better compensate for age-related erosion in cognitive ability."
We can offset this decline somewhat in early retirement by staying engaged and mentally active, completing crossword puzzles or playing bridge. But it's difficult to replicate the requirements in mental dexterity and alertness that we associate with full-time employment. Johnson also reports that a study in 2014 of some one-half million French workers revealed that the onset of dementia was much less common for people who remained in the workplace than for retirees of the same age. Another study shows that the risk of dying between ages 62 and 65 is higher among retirees than it is for those still working.
Social isolation is the new silent killer among the aged, and our level of "aloneness" is usually exponentially increased through early retirement. Some retirees combat this trend with volunteerism and social activities, but the level of mental engagement required in the workplace is difficult to replicate. Many believe that loneliness is one of our society’s biggest problems, and this condition can be exacerbated by retirement.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, author of the syndicated economic column "Arbor Outlook," is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.