People become more active, sleep better, and reduce their sitting time when they retire, says a new study published in March 2016 by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The study, “Retirement—A Transition to a Healthier Lifestyle?,” followed the lifestyle behaviors of more than 25,000 adults age 45-plus for about three years, tracking such factors as physical activity, diet, sedentary behavior, alcohol use, and sleep patterns.
“Our research revealed that retirement was associated with positive lifestyle changes,” said lead researcher Dr. Melody Ding, senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health. “Compared with people who were still working, retirees had increased physically activity levels, reduced sitting time, were less likely to smoke, and had healthier sleep patterns.
Dr. Ding said that a major life change like retirement creates an opportunity to make positive lifestyle modifications—to set aside negative routines and develop new, healthier behaviors.
Study data showed that retirees:
- Increased physical activity by 93 minutes a week
- Decreased sedentary time by 67 minutes per day
- Increased sleep by 11 minutes per day
- Decreased smoking (50 percent of female retirees quit smoking)
The differences were significant even after adjusting for factors such as age, sex, urban/rural residence, marital status, and education.
Dr. Ding said retirement gave people more time to pursue healthier lifestyles. “The lifestyle changes were most pronounced in people who retire after working full-time,” she said. “When people are working and commuting, it eats a lot of time out of their day. When they retire, they have time to be physically active and sleep more.”
In terms of sedentary time, researchers found that the largest reduction in sitting time occurred in people who lived in urban areas and had higher levels of education.
These findings include everyone in the study who retired. When researchers looked closer, they found that those whose health was not the prime reason for quitting work made the most dramatically positive lifestyle change—but those who retired for health reasons still improved their health habits quite a bit.
Dr. Ding said she hopes the research will encourage people to think positively about retirement.
The new research suggests that retiring as soon as you’re financially, physically, and emotionally able will likely lead to a healthier and happier time of your life.