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Retirement Might Be Good for Your Health

By Rita Rubin

If you’re contemplating retirement, you’ve probably given a lot of thought to its impact on your finances. But have you considered how retiring might affect your health?

The latest in the debate over whether retirement improves or worsens health appears in the current issue of The Journal of Human Resources. Its conclusion: “Results indicate that the retirement effect on health is beneficial and significant,” writes Michael Insler, an assistant professor of economics at the U.S. Naval Academy.

The boost to your health is comparable to reducing the risk of being diagnosed with diabetes by 25%, for those of retirement age, Insler concludes.

Better health behaviors 
In an interview with Next Avenue, Insler acknowledged that his conclusion “in some sense is counterintuitive,” since, he says, a common notion is that “oh, people retire and they kind of lose their will to go on.”
If retirement does benefit health, why is that so? “I think the obvious hypothetical answers to that question are health behaviors,” says Insler.

Retirees have more time to invest in their health, he writes in the Journal. “It may be easier for them to quit smoking or to be more physically active when not burdened by the workweek grind.”

Insler based his findings on an analysis of data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, which surveys a representative sample of 26,000 Americans over age 50 every other year.

He found that of the respondents who ever reported smoking, about 69% reported doing so in the survey that took place two to four years before they retired. But only about 56% said they were still smoking two to four years after they retired. Insler also found that people were more likely after retirement to exercise vigorously for at least 30 minutes three or more days a week. Two to four years before retirement, about 48% of survey respondents said they exercised that much; that proportion increased to nearly 52% two to four years into retirement.

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