Wellbeing & Benefits

Retired people are using their leisure time to become healthier than when they were working, research suggests. A study presented at the annual congress of the European Economic Association in Mannheim, Germany, provides a corrective to the conventional view that retirement is the first stage in a person’s declining health.

After studying data on German retirees, drawn from the country’s Socio-Economic Panel Study, Peter Eibich, an economist at the Health Economics Research Centre at Oxford, concluded that retirement improves people’s health because they take more exercise, sleep longer and have more time to recover from work-related strain.

According to his research, which covers 1994 to 2012, retired people:

  •  Are more likely to rate their physical and mental health as satisfactory or better than are working people.
  •  Visit their doctor less, often by about one visit per three months.
  • Get an extra 40 minutes of sleep a day.
  • Are 10% more likely to take frequent exercise.

The benefits were found to be even more significant for people whose jobs had been physically demanding.

Overall, the research found that retirees pursue a more active lifestyle, Eibich said. While they spend about an hour longer on their hobbies, they also spend more time on repairs, gardening, running errands and caring for grandchildren.

“My study shows older people will use leisure time to pursue an active lifestyle and improve their health,” added Eibich, who suggested his findings had important implications for how people should view retirement. “This suggests incentives such as part-time work or partial retirement programmes might be effective in maintaining the health of older workers.”

Part-time work or partial retirement programmes might prove effective in maintaining the health of older workers

Eibich’s work examined two cohorts of retirees. According to his data, about 19% of workers retire shortly after turning 60 – the earliest retirement age – while 13% retire after their 65th birthday, the official retirement age until 2012. Comparing individuals slightly below with individuals slightly above these age thresholds makes it possible to gauge the impact of retirement.

Improvements brought about by retirees changing their behaviour often brought attendant benefits, Eibich suggested. For example, retirement reduces the probability of smoking by about 6% and increases the probability of frequent exercise by 11%.

Moreover, Eibich argues that, given that older workers sleep for fewer than seven hours, the extra 40 minutes’ sleep a night retirees get may partly account for the improvement in their mental health.

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