Since the Great Depression, a commonly held perspective on the good life is that we can all look forward to retirement, when we didn't have to work any more. We would be more relaxed and healthier away from the stresses of work. There's a couple of flaws in that argument. For one thing, retirement, like pensions, was an invention of the depression, intended to deal with the problem of unemployment. Prior to the depression the concept of retirement didn't exist. And for the most part, people are viewing retirement in a very different way today. AARP in the U.S., report from a survey done in 2008 that 70% of workers plan to continue working past their retirement age.

Now recent research questions the assumption that not working anymore will improve your health. Researchers, led by Mo Wang, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, studied the health of 12,000 men and women between the ages of 51 and 61, using data from the U.S. National Health and Retirement Study. The research study was published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Among the conclusions of the study were: Compared to those who quite working altogether, those people who described themselves as officially retired but who continued to work part-time or in temp jobs were less likely to be diagnosed with these diseases--high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, stroke, psychiatric problems and arthritis. Those who worked at least part-time were also less likely to show signs of functional decline, or inability to perform the activities of daily living.  The findings were true for all categories of age, sex, financial statutes, education and physical and mental health before retirement.

This study supported much earlier studies, such as a study at a major hospital in 1920 that showed that people who worked after retirement lived longer and a Yale University study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, that showed being laid off or fired close to retirement or old age had a devastating effect on an individual's health, with particular reference to stroke. The American Geriatrics Society reported that people over age 65 who worked as volunteers had half the death risk of those who did not.

The benefits of continuing to work, other than financial resources, are social interaction, and opportunities to use your brain, the University of Maryland researchers reported. And perhaps most important of all, people who continue to work past retirement age have a sense of purpose, which has a positive impact on their health. A final argument for continuing to work is the cost of health services for aging Baby Boomers, the bulk of the population. It may be more economical for them to keep working, and stay healthier, than to have millions of them retire and be less healthy.

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