Waiting to Retire: Good or Bad for Your Health?

by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

Forget endless days of shuffleboard at a condo community in Florida – future retirees have no intention of being put out to pasture.

Almost two–thirds of adults 50 and older say they intend to work after the retirement age of 65, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago.

One-fourth of those older adults plan to change careers in the future. And one-quarter say they have no intention of ever retiring.

Laptop and Work Notes Scattered on Table by Senior Waiting to Retire | www.vitacost.com/blog

The desire to work well into one’s golden years can boost finances and provide a sense of purpose. But waiting to retire also offers another big plus, says Amanda Sonnega, assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor.

“Working longer tends to be associated with a range of health benefits,” she says.

Less disease, longer life

For example, researchers at the University of Miami studied data from 83,000 Americans who participated in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey between 1997 and 2011.

In a 2015 report of their findings, the researchers concluded that retired and unemployed people ages 65 and older were 2.75 times more likely to report their health as just “fair” or “poor” compared to people who worked.

In addition, people retired or unemployed people were significantly more likely to report a history of cancer, heart disease or diabetes than older working Americans.

Sonnega says it is easy to jump to conclusions — some of them possibly misleading — about the health benefits of working in the latter stages of life.

“This is a tricky thing to sort out, of course, because healthier people are more likely to be working longer than people in poor health,” she says.

Therefore, it is possible that healthier people simply work longer, and that the work itself plays no role in their well-being.

However, she adds that even after accounting for this “selection bias,” the Institute for Social Research’s Health and Retirement Study – which is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration — has found strong evidence of health benefits linked to working later in life.

“Those who stay on the job longer tend to stay more alert cognitively,” Sonnega says. “Some recent research shows that working longer may even be associated with greater longevity.”

Evidence that working longer might boost a person’s health arrives at a crucial juncture in American history. The number of Americans who are 65 and older is expected to jump from the current 46 million to more than 98 million by 2060, according to the Population Reference Bureau.

Staying healthy during your golden years

Alas, not everybody can work into their golden years. Nearly 25 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 experience significant health limitations that make working at older ages difficult, Sonnega says.

“And low-wage workers are more likely to be in poor health than higher-wage workers,” she adds.

While it is impossible to prevent some health conditions, staying healthy and fit can keep other maladies at bay.

The Cleveland Clinic says proper nutrition is crucial to good health in senior years. Many nutrition problems become more common after age 60, including:

  • Iron deficiency
  • Osteoporosis
  • Protein-calorie malnutrition
  • Vitamin deficiency

To help prevent these disorders, maintain a healthy weight and eat a diet well-balanced in protein, fat and carbohydrates.

The Cleveland Clinic notes that eating enough protein is particularly important. Multivitamins and calcium supplements also may be helpful for senior citizens, although you should consult a doctor first before taking these.

The Cleveland Clinic says exercise also is a vital part of staying healthy as an older adult. Most seniors should try to exercise with a mix of aerobic and strength-training exercises.

Examples of aerobic exercise for seniors include walking, swimming and dancing. Strength training can be done with weight machines or elastic bands.