The Effects of Retirement are Complex

Whenever looking at correlations between behavior and lifespan, or behavior and health, one should always ask whether calorie intake or physical activity level could be involved. Both animal and human studies tell us that the effects of both of these items are large in comparison to almost all other commonly varying factors, with smoking being one of the few exceptions to that rule. In recent years, the growing use of accelerometers rather than self-reporting in studies of exercise have revealed that even quite modest physical activity correlates with a sizable difference in outcomes in later life. Animal studies tell us that exercise does in fact cause improvements in health and at least healthy life span if not maximum life span. It is very hard to pull out causation from human statistics, but it is reasonable to arrange one's life on the basis that causation in other mammals matches up with causation in humans in this matter.

Retirement as an institution has interesting correlations with life span, especially in those countries where it is voluntary, and people are not forced into it, pushed out of their own lives by uncaring bureaucrats. More than one set of research results indicates that retirement is bad for health, and there is the suggestion that this might be because of declining physical activity. Certainly it is easy enough to point to correlations between ill health and retirement - people who age more rapidly or become ill and frail will certainly retire at much higher rates. Much of this research goes beyond the event of retirement itself to look at what happens later, however, and that is where suggested causation emerges from the data.

The open access paper I'll point out today might be taken to indicate that most earlier studies of this nature are perhaps overly simplistic. There are many life paths to consider: an obese individual who retires due to ill health is in a very different bracket of influences and outcomes from a thin individual who transitions from a desk job to actively gardening during the day. Some groups of people do actually undertake more physical activity following retirement. The paper itself splits out retirees into a fair number of categories, and it is worth looking through to find the tables and charts. What we might take away from this is a reminder that rejuvenation therapies are on the horizon, some already in early clinical development, and for many of us a few years here or a few years there may wind up being the difference between living to benefit or dying just at the verge of the new era of treatments for the causes of aging.

Does retirement mean more physical activity? A longitudinal study

Participation in physical activity declines with age concurrent to an increasing risk of preventable health conditions like type 2 diabetes. Yet physical activity is widely recognized as crucial for strengthening and maintaining physical and mental health during aging. Some transitions out of the labor market, such as retirement and semi-retirement, may free up time that could be used to (re) engage in physical activity. Retirement can be seen, therefore, as a potentially sensitive period in the lifecourse to target interventions for promoting healthy ageing. Evidence on physical activity during retirement from cross-sectional studies is mixed and limited by the spectre of reverse causality. Some longitudinal studies have the potential to approximate the transition to retirement, so should be regarded as higher quality evidence. Of the longitudinal studies, some have attempted to isolate the impact of retirement on leisure-time physical activity specifically. Others have investigated whether trajectories in physical activity across retirement vary by indicators of socioeconomic circumstances. Findings remain equivocal, however, providing no firm answer on how retirement affects participation in physical activity.

Accordingly, the purpose of this longitudinal study was to examine participation in different intensities of physical activity among people transitioning out of full-time employment to different forms of retirement, while also accounting for transitions to unemployment, part-time work, or disability status. Data was obtained for 5,754 people in full-time employment aged 50-75 from the US Health and Retirement Survey. Logistic regression was used to examine trajectories in twice-weekly participation in light, moderate and vigorous physical activity among those transitioning to part-time work, semi-retirement, full retirement, or economic inactivity due to disability, in comparison to those remaining in full-time employment.

Twice weekly participation in vigorous and light physical activity changed little for those who remained in full-time employment, while moderate physical activity decreased between baseline and follow-up. Differences in physical activity according to transitional categories at follow-up were evident. Baseline differences in physical activity across all intensities were greatest among participants transitioning from full-time to part-time employment compared to those who remained in full-time employment throughout the study period. Those transitioning to unemployment were already among the least physically active at baseline, irrespective of intensity. Those transitioning to full-time retirement were also among the least active. Declines in physical activity were reported for those transitioning to economic inactivity due to a disability. Physical activity increased regardless of intensity among participants transitioning to semi-retirement and full retirement. Light physical activity increased for those transitioning to unemployment, though less change was evident in moderate or vigorous physical activity.

Insufficient physical activity is suggested to cause 6% of coronary heart disease, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer, 10% of colon cancer, and 9% of premature mortality. Although finding opportunities to promote the initiation and maintenance of physically active lifestyles is needed across the lifecourse, this study supports previous evidence that indicates the process of retirement as one such time period. Inevitably, the findings raise questions and hypotheses requiring analyses that are beyond the remit of the paper and, in some cases, also the data available. For example, is the rise in physical activity regardless of intensity among people moving into semi-retirement due to less time spent in employment? Why are people who move into part-time work already more physically active than their counterparts who remained in full-time work? Is the rise in light physical activity among people who become unemployed sustained among those who re-enter some level of employment? What factors buffer the potential impact of disability on the substantial decreases in physical activity? What types of activities do people become more or less engaged in and are there differences between transitional groups? To what extent do changes in physical activity coinciding with the transition out of full-time employment reflect personal choices versus any number of possible competing demands upon time, including informal caring and volunteering? This is not an exhaustive list and it is clear that much remains unknown. Yet, the need to promote physical activity in ageing populations remains a pressing concern and these hypotheses warrant investigation in order to target future interventions accordingly.


Interesting article. is there any further explanation as to why, if exercise is so important, insufficient physical activity is only related to relatively low percentages of premature mortality? If other factors are more important then why the emphasis on exercise?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a great believer in exercise for all sorts of reason, but I was surprised at the figures quoted.

Posted by: Rosemary at July 29th, 2016 4:44 AM


Hi Rosemary,

Just an opinion, 2 cent.

Insufficient physical activity is suggested to cause 6% of coronary heart disease, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer, 10% of colon cancer, and 9% of premature mortality.

I would wager it's slight exaggeration/over-representation of the positive effects of exercice. It's better to over exaggerate than under exaggerate it,
this gives an 'enhanced' effect and vision of the benefits of exercice. People perceive it in far better light than it is (not saying it's bad) just
that it increases the spreading power/mouth-to-ear image of exercice being Very Very Very Very good. When it could just be - good, that's about it.
Many studies show that exercice have many benefits in the long run as such it is better doing it than not doing it. Still, as you say, since the numbers
shown are pretty low it demonstrates exercice is a not cure all and is only low preventer/slower of degeneration. If you have predispositions,
exercice won't stop them. Two examples : My uncle died at 74 of Alzheimer's, he did exercice (biking/cycling) for many years (was pro marathon level),
he still died at 74..from Alzheimer's..all of this happened in the span of a year. The year all is great, great shape, thin enough, mind is still ok,
doing exercice eating right, doesn't stop things from happening - only postponed them/slow them from happening faster. Genetic predispositions
are far stronger impact, as you age, once you hit 70, the genetic predispositions hit you strongly and you die any moment from them - wether doing exercice or not.
Second example, me, I had atherosclerosis, (below 40s, I am not even sure i'll outlive my uncle can you imagine), was always thin (below 130 lbs, 5'10),
always doing exercice (bike like uncle, same thing),
boom one day like that the silent killer shows up at my door (he wants to reap my soul), atherosclerosis, like cancer, is deadly silent. One day, you
get a heart attack (like in my cas) - when your thin and 'healthy' (or so you think), but you ate crap like I did for years (my LDL was way too high a dangerous slope), it comes to get you even if you
are young, old, thin, eating right enough (apparently not right enough in my case I switched diet and lived to see another day), doing exercice, etc, And still die anyways.
So for all people who are over 60,70,80, you are lucky to be alive, many don't even eget that far and 'appear very healthy, And they die anyways'. It's why exercice,
one of the most spoken of and know (the only real one) form of 'health' improvement we latch on and try to say it's worth it - more than not.

Posted by: CANanonymity at July 30th, 2016 10:58 AM


I always believed that exercise is very good to minimize or avoid many health issues as one gets older. So, I am not sure it is an exaggeration on their part. IMO, exercise holistically positively affects the whole body, probable in a synergized manner.

I worked at a water district for a short time, and a guy who worked in the same department had a larger than normal office chair. He was quite large and walked very slow. I would say he was between 55-60. I heard him calling his family on Friday about ordering pizza for dinner. I don't understand why people would not realize moving your body (its very essence was meant to move often) with muscles/ligaments, joints, ect. For him, even walking regularly every day would be very helpful. I never said anything, though.

Although I hit the gym regularly, I do like sweets so that is something I need to work on for myself. But I have always been a strong believer of exercise to minimize loss of muscle mass as we get older. I really think exercise and CR are the only effective method to slow down aging at this point. Regarding CR, I always tell myself that it is OK to feel hungry, that feeling hungry is your friend:)

Posted by: Robert Church at July 30th, 2016 1:26 PM

Hi Robert !

Thank you for sharing that.

Trust me, I am not trying to put down exercise (though it may have seemed like that from my text). It really is good, yes, even very good; it's 100%
justified into doing it for your health and its improvement. Most people will benefit, if not almost all. My main point was simply that
it slows things down, as you say for example with sarcopenia (muscle loss with age) and improves skeletal power (studies have shown
that skeletal muscle 'grip' strength is a decent predictor of next-5-year mortality (meaning if you lose too much grip, the grim reaper is coming soon),
same goes for the 'balance exercise' which is you go down on floor, put yourself on the floor, sit legs crossed...and then lift yourself - with no help
whatsoever (no wall, no people, nothing..just your balance) your arms cannot touch anything, not even the floor, raise your amrs...and lift yourself up
- only with your legs; if you need help for lifing yourself up with just your legs crossed (uncross your legs and rise up to standing, while not falling/keeping balance) - your balance may be weakened otherwise - telling two things, your brain/nerve has damage/your audition has damage (the ear liquid for spatial/Balance is less or damaged), perhaps even your olfactory bulb too (olfaction loss in elder correlates to soon-death onset by olfactory bulb destruction accelerating overall brain degenerescence), and it means weak legs, weak arms, weak muscles, weak grip, thus death onset by sarcopenia.
So doing exercise is much better than none. But we have to understand something - this is Base/Basis/Basic level stuff.. It does not change things for predispositions
if you have family genetic inheritance of diseases or anything like that - it may get you at some point - you are at risk - despite doing exercise.
The examples I gave show very clearly that exercise does not stop anything, only slow it. In the general healthy population, it will help them greatly,
but if you have (more) of these genetic predispositions, it will slow things down, a bit. LIke my uncle'S example, had he not exercised he might have
died 10-15 or even earlier (in his 60s) from Alzheimer's. The reason for that is biological : exercise activates a myriad of elements that are positive such
as mitohormesis (increase of ROS (reactive oxygen species) and thus, ROS signaling creating a compensatory ARE/EpRE/Nrf2 elevation (an antioxidant systems response to oxidative insult of exercice,
we have to understand that exercice is oxidative damaging, flies that 'overexercise' die much quickly then non-exercisers..demonstrating production of humans, there is negative-feedback compensation
trought PGC-1a activating/translocating Nrf2 (Nuclear Response Factor 2) in the nucleus, activating thus, SIR-1/DAF-16 (sirtuin histone genes whom alter mTOR/PIK3 kinase just like in CR, CR acts in a similar fashion like exercise, there is a synergistic like you said),
which then go on to alter the 'redox' properties of cell (the antioxidative status, such as enzymes controlling that : SOD (super oxide dismutase), CAT (catalase), GPx (Glutathione peroxidase), GSH-T (Glutathione Transferase), HSPs (heat shock proteins), UCPs (Uncoupling proteins who disengage ATP production in the proton gradient, like a 'shunt' valve to let the gaz out, by stopping ATP energy production it lower ROS production at the membrane potential - at the cost of ATP loss (there's never something happening in the body without a dual negative in counterbalancing), and whole host of others) to quench the ROS production by exercise.
This ,in turn, alters the mitochondrial membrane potential (mV) to become increased (high membrane pot equals higher ROS, membrane potential is the catalyzer of ROS) when the membrane potential rises, there is a compensation signal to 'relower it again' but at the same time boost the antioxidant system to quench the 'just-risen ROS' production by exercise; amounting to mitochondrial hormesis (a continuous back and forth feedback).

This, all, of this, is base stuff. Mitochondrial mutations (like MELAS) on 'stuff on top' of all of this, genetic predispositions are very insidious/pernisious. And can't do much about them, besides some base level exercise which slows slightly things.
If you feel very healthy, it's good for you. Studies showed that feeling good and healthy of course helps a lot, placebo effect a bit. When you feel
happy healty you release endorphins, opiates and many brain substances that 'make you feel' happy and 'good'; thus thinking healthy.
Which they do have positive effects (one study showed that positive thinking people or feeling healthy, made the people be more 'resilient' (placebo effect again),
they withstood longer their hand in cold water; study showed that the pain signals were abolished or diminished the more 'you believe it you are happy and healthy';
and biological study showed that indeed the pain receptors were inhibited when you concentrate yourself on being positive - same goes for yoga and meditation;
yoga study showed increase in brain waves of high alpha activity, increased stress resistance, increased 'zen feel' increased pain resistance - all due to changes in pain receptors in brain
and also there was a significant change in glutathione content during yoga seance. Meaning the redox was altered when you meditate, it increases teh 'reduce' potential (higher antioxidant cell status by yoga).
Of course..then you feel better all these effects have biological mechanisms we can detect. As such, they Are good and you can do exercise, eat right CR, yoga, socialize and it will help you. The only thing I wish to say, is be optimistic but don'T fool yourself (I was way too optimistic and death came at my door seriously made me rethink almost as if it imbittered me and told me you might not be so lucky after all).
Sh*t happens when we least expect it/when everything is rainbows and butterflies, that I learned.
STill final word, never give up on life, never I mean it should be never unless you can't take it anymore (pain) and want to end it (die),
and yes never give up on exercice : )

Posted by: CANanonymity at July 31st, 2016 3:28 PM

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