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LIFELONG HEALTH: The rest of your life depends on wise decisions about retirement

Everyone asks me, at age 71, “Are you ready to retire?” And for the first time I am giving the idea serious thought. I certainly have no inclination to retire in the foreseeable future. But what if, say, I become ill? What then? Can I keep up my hectic schedule for much longer? I do know that when I come home after a long day, I am pretty exhausted. I feel I need a nap.

The problem with me is that I have not prepared for retirement in any way. Of course I am influenced by the changing times, and for many, 65 is no longer considered a retirement age. But now I need to be more realistic and give some thought to the possibility that in the next five years or so I may need to wind things down. Whenever I see friends who have retired I ask them what they do with their days. All they seem to say is their days are full and complete with tennis, golf, gardening, volunteering and traveling. To me the thought is frightening. I love my work, my hobby is writing, and TV and my KIDS occupy the rest.

DR. DAVID LIPSCHITZSadly, I may fall into the group of retirees who are the unhappiest. Often they have had very successful careers that have consumed their lives. They can’t cope with loss of control and of feeling unvalued. With few outside interests and few close friends or relatives, many spend there days sitting, grumbling and reminiscing. Couple this with a sedentary lifestyle, many complain of chronic fatigue and often become depressed. It is these people for whom retirement is both empty and lonely. And for them, life expectancy is short with a higher risk of illness, disability and death.

Even if we are prepared and have a plan, is retiring early better than retiring later? Not so, says a research article published in the British Medical Journal. The rates of death during the next 10 years for those who voluntarily retire at age 55 are twice as high as those who continue to work. In general, this increased risk affects all early retirees. However, men who retire early were affected the most, with an 80 percent higher risk of death than early female retirees. Additionally, retirees of a lower socioeconomic status had the highest risk of death.

Interestingly, retiring at age 60 and beyond did not result in a higher mortality than retiring at age 65. This study did not address the issue of whether life expectancy was affected either positively or negatively by continuing to work beyond age 65.

While I may be one of the worst examples of preparing for retirement, I do know what it takes to live long and age well. And as the average age of baby boomers approaches 65 and beyond, the children of the greatest generation must give serious consideration to when they should retire and to their lives after work. The data are compelling: Retirees who are happy and have a purpose in life live longer and are healthier than those who do not. No matter your age, an occupation is an essential element of good health. This could be continuing to work, developing a new career or a new hobby, or, most importantly, remaining a lifelong learner.

Perhaps the most sage advice I have received so far is: “You can always retire from your job, but you must never retire from life.” Evidence indicates that deciding when and how to retire are the most critical decisions we make in our lifetime — more important that the college we attend, the career we pursue, whom we marry, and where we live.

Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book “Breaking the Rules of Aging.” To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at: www.creators.com. More information is available at: DrDavidHealth.com

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