Planning for retirement goes beyond just a pension…

While many of us might spend our final years of work counting the days until retirement, this major life transition actually poses significant challenges to health. Sadly, many people experience a precipitous decline in wellbeing following retirement; research suggests that loneliness and isolation is an issue for a significant proportion- between 5-16% of retirees. There are also estimates from the Mental Health Foundation that around a fifth of adults aged over 65 living in the community have depression.

Latest research suggests that membership of social groups in retirement is key to wellbeing

In a recently published study , researchers from the University of Queensland tracked the health of 424 people for 6 years after they had retired. Their health was then compared with the same number of people matched for age, sex, and health status, but who were still working.

Each participant was asked how many different organisations, clubs and societies they belonged to. They were also asked to complete a validated score to assess quality of life and subjective physical health.

The study found that membership of social groups was associated with quality of life, and that health declined significantly with every group membership lost in retirement. If a person belonged to 2 groups before they retired, and kept them up over the next 6 years, their risk of death was 2%. But this risk rose to 5% if they gave up membership of 1 group, and 12% if they gave up membership of both.

The researchers also found that the beneficial impact of membership of social groups was comparable with the benefits gained from physical exercise both before and after retirement.

Invest in your social life, not just your pension
This all points to the idea that while public and policy attention has been focused for a considerable time on the need to plan for retirement financially, it is every bit as important for us to consider how we will maintain our emotional and social wellbeing. If you think about it, finding new ways to occupy 35+ hours (for a full time worker) of purposeful activity and human interaction per week is not going to happen without a little planning. Surely retirement should be seen as a fantastic opportunity to seek out some new activities and experiences, on top of those that you already enjoy? 

Ideas for a fulfilling retirement
Studies have shown that fun communal activities, such as joining a choir, taking part in arts and crafts, and participating in group physical activities, such as walking schemes, are all highly beneficial. Organisations such as the University of the Third Age (U3A) are great places to start, where retirees self-organise a seemingly endless variety of local interest and activity groups.

Volunteering is found to be particularly helpful, in maintaining a sense of purpose and belonging, and in particular when engaging in cross-generational activities such as helping with reading support in schools. Equally, the younger generation have their part to play, for example by volunteering to support older people in using new technologies. 

In short, all of us should be able to look forward to not only a financially secure retirement, but one that feels fulfilling and purposeful. If you feel that you are not enjoying good health in retirement, be it psychological, emotional, or physical, or if you are concerned that someone you care about is not well in retirement, there is lots of help and support available. Your GP is just one of the many people who can and would like to help.

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Some useful resources and ideas to get you started