Want to Retire Early? How It Can Actually Kill You

Most people can’t wait for retirement. It’s a time to finally relax and let your hair down. There’s no need to wake up at the crack of dawn, rush to eat breakfast, and then run to work in a panic. There’s no boss breathing down your neck, barking orders, and closely monitoring your arrival and break times. Freedom is here.

On the other hand, for some retirees that freedom becomes a little too permanent. Instead of crossing items off a bucket list, some are kicking the bucket soon after calling it quits. One study of Shell Oil workers found workers who retire at age 55 are 89% more likely to die during the 10 years after retirement than workers who retire at 65. However, for workers who retired after age 55, the mortality risk decreased. Why does it seem like some folks die right after they finally have permission to relax?

Is illness the major factor?

Sick woman

Is health status — and not retirement — a major factor? | iStock.com/samotrebizan

You might reason those who died after retiring early were probably already sick, and that’s why they died. However, researchers have found this isn’t necessarily true. Oregon State University researchers discovered adults who were in good health who retired one year after age 65 had an 11% lower risk of dying from all causes. This was true even when lifestyles, health issues, and demographics were taken into consideration.

In addition, survey participants who identified themselves as unhealthy were also found to live longer if they continued to work. Both healthy and unhealthy workers were more likely to live longer if they delayed retirement. So it’s possible the longer you work, the longer you’ll live. Still thinking about retiring early?

The retirement-death connection

feet of a deceased person with an orange tag on a table at the morgue

It’s possible the earlier you retire, the sooner you die. | iStock.com

Although there is some evidence that suggests early retirement could put you in the grave, there is also reason to believe retirement in general could cause you to meet your maker sooner than intended. Regardless of when you decide to permanently leave the workforce, the Grim Reaper could still be looking for you.

One recent example is sportswriter Frank DeFord, who died the same month he retired. Other examples include Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, who died hours before his last comic strip was published, as well as college football coach Paul William “Bear” Bryant, who died just 37 days after coaching his last game. Could it be that your body becomes so accustomed to working hard for so long that it breaks down rapidly once it’s able to rest?

Not just a US phenomenon

man and woman sitting on the beach

A possible link between early retirement and early death has been seen in other countries. | iStock.com/EpicStockMedia

You might also conclude workers in the United States are generally more likely to croak once they hang up their work hats. Perhaps all that hard living just caught up to them. However, studies in other countries have yielded similar results.

The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study of Greek participants, which analyzed the relation between retirement age and mortality. The follow-up report revealed retirees were 51% more likely to die than employees in their age group who continued to work. Yet another study of Austrian retirees conducted by researchers at the University of Zurich uncovered results that mirrored the Greek study.

Factors that could speed up death in retirement

scene from "The Walking Dead"

Certain behaviors could speed up your death timeline. | AMC

Although no one knows for sure whether retirement has any direct link to when you die, there are some behaviors typically seen during retirement that could speed up the process. Lifestyle choices during this time play a big role in how you’ll fare. Sitting on the couch all day eating chips and soda won’t cut it. Read on for some actions that could cause you to join the ranks of the dearly departed.

Sedentary lifestyle

man kicking up his feet to nap on a coach

A sedentary lifestyle is a sure path to an early death. | iStock.com

Some retirees are so beat from years of hard work that they take relaxing to an extreme. Instead of playing a few rounds on the golf course or taking advantage of their free time to exercise, they stay home more and watch their favorite shows on television. Or they might take up a sedentary activity, such as knitting or reading. If the heart and mind aren’t getting a good workout, it could be a matter of time before the body starts to fail.


Depressed woman pressing her hand against her forehead

Retirement increases your risk for clinical depression. | iStock.com/grinvalds

Another factor that could lead to a shorter life is the loneliness and depression some retirees experience after leaving work. When you suddenly go from working in a bustling office to being alone most days, it’s no surprise feelings of sadness can become overwhelming.

In fact, according to a study by the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs, the likelihood someone will become clinically depressed rises by 40% after retiring. Unfortunately, untreated depression could lead to an untimely death as a result of suicide. More than 7,000 people age 65 or older died by suicide in 2013, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research.


man sitting alone

Worry can make you sick. | iStock.com

Everyone knows they will die one day; however, those thoughts aren’t as loud during your working years. Once you retire, there’s a lot more time to think about death. There’s also a lot more silence because you’re most likely at home while everyone else is at work. And during those silent moments, it’s not unusual for your mind to wander to dark places you were too busy to think about when you were employed. That worry could make you increasingly anxious and put such a burden on your immune system that you become more prone to all kinds of illnesses.

Jack Guttentag, emeritus professor of finance at The Wharton School, told Knowledge@Wharton that retirement gives you a lot of time to worry yourself sick. “You always knew intellectually that life was short, but during the years when you were building a career and a family, the emotional recognition of that fact was kept at bay. When the realization that you will soon cease to exist finally comes to call, the response can range from disabling to total equanimity,” Guttentag said.

How to improve quality of life during your golden years

 couple embracing on the beach

One of the keys to living a long, happy life is to know what you’re going to do during life after work. | iStock.com/Ridofranz

You don’t have to become like those who die right after retirement. One of the keys to living a long, happy life is to know what you’re going to do during life after work. Have a plan for what you want to do with your time. If you don’t, the reality of retirement will likely be an unexpected shock. You’ll suddenly find you have more time on your hands than you thought you would, and no one is around to share it with.

If you do have someone to share your time with, you might come to the realization you don’t know each other anymore. The hustle and bustle of raising kids and climbing the career ladder can turn a once-loving couple into strangers. Whether you’re alone or coupled, here’s how to improve your quality of life during retirement.

Stay active

seniors playing football in a park

Think about joining a senior center or a local health club that has classes just for seniors. | iStock.com/ Ljupco

Now that your regular routine is no more, it will be important to develop a new one. Having a routine gives you something to look forward to. Once you having nothing left to expect, boredom and hopelessness start to set in.

Think about joining a senior center or a local health club that has classes just for seniors. Also, don’t overlook simple activities, such as taking walks or even exercising at or near your home. Who says the park can’t be your gym? Be creative, and find new ways to keep your mind and body active.

Get a social life

Senior couple mountain biking

Get out and be social. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

One aspect of retirement you might forget to think about is your social life. Your friends and co-workers might still be in the workforce or too ill to socialize, so this could lead to some lonely days. However, you can still stay in contact with people by taking on volunteer work. This way you can make new friends and help those in need. It’s a win-win for all involved.

Don’t worry

nervous stressed young woman

Don’t worry; be happy. | iStock.com/SIphotography

Most people associate retirement with relaxation, but it can also be a very stressful time. This is especially the case if you didn’t prepare as well as you should have. It will be necessary for you to learn how to relax and enjoy your break from working every day. If you find it’s hard to set aside your anxious thoughts and your anxiety is affecting day-to-day activities, it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional.

Follow Sheiresa on Twitter @SheiresaNgo.

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