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Retirement eases tiredness and depression symptoms

Retirement from work brings immediate benefits, with a drop in mental and physical tiredness, and symptoms of depression, a new study finds. But it makes no difference to the likelihood of getting heart disease or other long-term diseases.

What do we know already

The research into the health effects of retirement have thrown up mixed results. Some studies found that people died sooner if they retired earlier. But later analysis showed this could be because people who were already ill retired earlier on health grounds.

Other studies have shown that people stayed well longer if they took up a second, less intense career (a so-called ‘bridge’ career) after retirement.

Much of the problem with research into this area is unpicking whether work and retirement have an effect on your health, or whether your health has an effect on when you retire.

A new French study helps because it looked at people’s health both before and after retirement. People working for the company EDF-GDF filled in a questionnaire about their health every year, including whether they had been diagnosed with heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, or stroke. They were asked to rate their levels of physical and mental tiredness, and to say how often they got symptoms of depression. The questionnaires continued for seven years after they retired.

What does the new study say?

Retirement had no effect on long-term illness like heart disease. The likelihood of having these illnesses went up steadily over time.

But there was a dramatic drop in the numbers of people who said they felt physically and mentally tired after retirement. Around 27 percent of people reported being mentally tired in the year before retirement, compared to just 7 per cent in the year after retirement.

There was a similar drop in physical tiredness (from 20 percent to 7 percent) and a smaller drop for symptoms of depression (from nearly 25 percent to about 16 percent).

The reduction in tiredness was especially notable for people who had already been diagnosed with a long-term disease before retirement.

How reliable are the findings?

This was a big, long-term study following more than 14,000 people for an average of 14 years (7 before and 7 after retirement). The results are likely to be reliable for this group of people, although we don’t know whether they would apply to other groups.

Where does the study come from?

The research used figures from a large, long-term health study being carried out in France. The researchers are from several European universities. It was published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal), which is owned by the British Medical Association.

What does this mean for me?

The study was carried out in France, at a company where most of the workforce retired on a generous pension scheme at age 55. So we don’t know if you’d see the same effect for a different workforce, retiring later, and possibly on a less generous pension.

Also, the results are limited to chronic diseases, symptoms of depression, and fatigue. We don’t know how retirement affected people’s health in other ways, and as most people retired at 55, we don’t know what effect retirement at different ages might have.

What should I do now?

With changes to the state pension age, and the abolition of a statutory retirement age, the likelihood is that many of us will be working for longer. Finding ways of managing work-related tiredness is likely to become more of a challenge.

From:

Westerlund H, Vahtera J, Ferrie JE, et al. Effect of retirement on major chronic conditions and fatigue: French GAZEL occupational cohort study. BMJ. 2010; 341: 6149.

To find out more about symptoms of depression, see our information.

Nov 29, 2010