It’s time to health yourself

ACTIVE RETIREMENT: The findings of a recent study suggest health professionals and policy makers should consider developing special programs for retirees to capitalise on the health benefits retirement can bring.
ACTIVE RETIREMENT: The findings of a recent study suggest health professionals and policy makers should consider developing special programs for retirees to capitalise on the health benefits retirement can bring.

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While many associate retirement with ageing and slowing down, a recent study has found it can have many positive benefits for your health.

University of Sydney research shows people become more active, sleep better and reduce their sitting time when they retire.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, followed the lifestyle behaviours of 25,000 older Australians including physical activity, diet, sedentary behaviour, alcohol use and sleep.

“Compared with people who were still working, retirees had increased physically activity levels, reduced sitting time, were less likely to smoke, and had healthier sleep patterns,” lead researcher Dr Melody Ding, Senior Research Fellow at the University’s School of Public Health, said.

The data revealed retirees:

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

The differences were significant even accounting for factors such as age, sex, urban/rural residence, marital status and education. 

Dr Ding said retirement gave people more time to pursue healthier lifestyles, especially those who had previously worked full-time.

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“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, the largest reduction in sitting time occurred in people who lived in urban areas and had higher educational levels,” she said.

Dr Ding said her own mother’s experience of mandatory retirement at age 55 in China had inspired the study.

"She was really anxious about stopping work - she felt like she was not as valuable,” she said.

“So I thought I'd like to find some positive information about retirement. She now spends her days enjoying so many hobbies, she can't remember how she had time to work."

Retired bank manager Des, aged 89, described himself as “happily busy” in retirement, keeping fit by dancing four times a week and walking.

“I keep my mind active by involvement in the University of the Third Age, teaching computer skills and dancing to the oldies, most of them are younger than me,” he said.

Dr Ding hoped the research would encourage people to think positively about retirement and translate to better health in older Australians, preventing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“Retirement is a good time for doctors to talk their patients about making positive lifestyle changes that could add years to their life,” she said.