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Does retirement better health, or make it worse? A new study published in The Journal of Human Resources point to the former.
"Results indicate that the retirement effect on health is beneficial and significant," Michael Insler, an assistant professor of economics at the US Naval Academy, writes.
Insler tells Next Avenue that his findings are a bit "counterintuitive," as it's widely believed retirees "kind of lose their will to go on."
So why does retirement contribute to better health?
"I think the obvious hypothetical answers to that question are health behaviors," says Insler. These "obvious" answers include more time to be physically active, as exercise and other fitness-related activities aren't hampered by the work week. Retirement can also make it easier to quit bad habits such as smoking, as daily work stress can often make people reach for cigarettes.
Insler based his findings on data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. The institute surveys a "representative sample" of 26,000 US citizens over age 50 every other year. He found 69% of respondents surveyed two to four years before retirement said they smoked, yet only 54% smoked two to four years after retirement. Retirees were also more likely to "vigorously exercise" for at least 30 minutes three days a week or more.
But what about those who truly love their work -- are they more likely to become depressed once they retire?
"Job satisfaction isn't really something that I looked closely at," Insler says. "It could be part of the story." However, "It's less about your stress and satisfaction and more about the time you devote to your health upkeep."
A 2008 study using the same data came up with very different results. Conducted by economist Inas Rashad Kelly of the Queens College of the City University of New York and her team, results indicated negative effects from retirement. However, this different result from the same data "points to the complex and multifaceted nature of the issue at hand," says Rashad Kelly. She also notes the those who voluntarily retired were less likely to face negative effects compared to those forced or encouraged to retire.
Insler also noted that how someone feels after retirement still depends on the individual. "I'm trying to calculate an average impact for a population," he says. "Does it mean it will necessarily happen to them? No."