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50+: Live Better, Longer

Stay Healthy in Retirement With Work

Fewer Diseases for Retirees if They Take Up Part-Time Jobs or Self-Employment
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 16, 2009 -- People who continue to work after retirement have fewer diseases and fewer functional limitations than people who quit completely, a study shows.

The study shows that "bridge employment" -- which researchers define as a part-time job or self-employment -- is in general good for health after official retirement.

The study is published in the October issue of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

The researchers found that people who find post-retirement work that is related to their previous jobs report better mental health than those who just call it quits and retire. But the study also shows that retirees with financial problems are more likely to work in a different field after official retirement.

Yujie Zhan, PhD, of the University of Maryland, and colleagues analyzed data from the national Health and Retirement Study, which is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. They used data from 12,189 participants between 51 and 61 at the start of the study. The participants were interviewed every two years starting in 1992 about health, finances, employment history, work, or retirement life.

The researchers took into account physical and mental health before retirement as well as age, sex, education level, and total financial wealth.

The analysis shows that retirees who kept working in a bridge job suffered fewer major diseases and fewer functional limitations than those who stopped working.  Mental health improvements, though, were only found among people who worked in jobs related to their previous career.

"Rather than wanting to work in a different field, they may have to work," says one of the researchers, Mo Yang, PhD, also of the University of Maryland, a news release. "In such situations, it's difficult for retirees to enjoy the benefits that come with bridge employment."

The researchers say choosing a suitable type of bridge employment will help retirees transition better -- and in better physical and mental health -- into full retirement.

Employers that are concerned about a labor shortage due to the retirement of millions of baby boomers might consider employment options available for their retirees, the researchers suggest.

The study concludes that bridge employment may help protect retirees from major diseases and daily functional decline. The researchers say this may be due to increased physical and mental activity related to working.

On the flip side, "full retirement might lead to significantly less social contact and fewer daily activities for many retirees," the researchers write. "In turn, they may be less able to resist the major diseases and the decline in daily functions accompanied with aging."

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