Retiring early can actually lengthen your life, economists from the University of Amsterdam affirmed in a 2017 study published in the journal of Health and Economics.
Male Dutch civil servants over the age of 54 who retired early were an astounding 42 percent less likely to die over the subsequent five years compared to those who continued working. (There were too few women in the sample who met the early retirement eligibility requirements — including having contributed to the public sector pension fund for ten consecutive years — to be included.)
The researchers explain the potentially life-extending effects of retiring in two ways.
For one, retiring frees you up, allowing you more time to invest in your health. That benefits you whether you’re sleeping more, exercising or simply going to the doctor as soon as an issue appears.
Second, work can be stressful, while retirement can alleviate that stress, and stress can create hypertension, a risk factor for various potentially fatal conditions. Retirees in this study were significantly less likely to die from stroke or from cardiovascular diseases.
The finding echoes a few others, the New York Times reports: “An analysis in the United States found about seven years of retirement can be as good for health as reducing the chance of getting a serious disease (like diabetes or heart conditions) by 20 percent. Positive health effects of retirement have also been found by studies using data from Israel, England, Germany and other European countries.”
Still, there are benefits to having a job, too. That’s why the advice from a Japanese doctor and longevity expert who lived until 105 is, “Don’t retire.”
Being in a work environment can keep your mind and, in some cases, your body active. If you work alongside others, that might also provide a sense of belonging. Social isolation, as the Times notes, is linked to cognitive decline and even death.
A job might also give you a sense of purpose, which research has shown to be associated with a host of benefits, including having a healthier heart and lower risk of dementia. In fact, one study found that the longer you work, the lower your risk for dementia.
But those kinds of needs can also be fulfilled outside of the office, as long as you remain active and social. Many retirees choose to volunteer, for example, which can benefit you immensely, especially if you’re passionate about the cause, the Washington Post reports.
As for keeping your wits about you, Jacquelyn James, co-director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, recommends continuing to educate yourself.
“We have found that work stimulates cognitive development to the extent that work is engaging and also challenging,” she told the Post. “I think we used to think that doing crossword puzzles was the best way to keep our cognitive ability alive and developing and I think we’re seeing that it takes more than that. It’s much more important to do things that challenge the mind, like learning a new language, or learning a new technology.”
And, of course, since retiring means giving up a steady income, not everyone can quit work, not even when they’re technically at retirement age. In that case, some experts recommend “downshifting” and going part-time so you can still cover living expenses. If you’re considering the possibility of escaping the nine-to-five while you’re on the younger side, it helps to plan accordingly and start putting the right amount of money aside early on.
The bottom line: Leaving your job can come at a cost but it does give you more free time. And as long as you are spending that time wisely, you might be able to prolong your life.