LOS ANGELES — Is retirement the start of a downward spiral in mental, physical and emotional health or is it good for you? Many surveys show that people feel their health improves after retirement. A large, new study suggests, however, that retirement doesn't alter the risk of developing major chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. However, fatigue and depression seem to improve.
The study, published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal, is one of the largest and longest-running studies of retirement. Almost 14,000 French men and women were followed for seven years before retirement and seven years after retirement. The study authors, from Stockholm University, found that mental and physical fatigue improved significantly after retiring. That suggests, they wrote, "that fatigue may be an underlying reason for early exit from the labor market and decreased productivity." Fatigue was more common among women, people who retired before age 55 and those who had a chronic disease.
Symptoms of depression also improved, especially among people with chronic diseases. In the year before retirement, 25 percent of the study participants reported depression symptoms and 19 percent had some kind of disease. All of the study participants retired by age 64.
Other recent studies suggest that working helps keep people healthier. One study showed that mental health was better in retirees who pursued a second career after retiring from their first career. More research is needed to understand how retirement affects people at particular ages, said the authors of a commentary accompanying the study. Discussions of raising the retirement age in several European countries have sparked protests and heated debate, the authors noted. In this country, many older employees consider working longer than anticipated in order to recover retirement funds and savings lost during the recession.