Retirement blues: Taking it too easy can be hard on you
It might seem like retirement is a time to take it easy and devote yourself to gardening, golfing, and napping. But don't take it too easy, say Harvard experts. For optimal well-being, you need to stay engaged — with your own interests as well as with other people.
Making the change
Newly retired men face some typical difficulties. One is creating a new routine after leaving behind the nine-to-five grind. "During that phase of going from a lot of structure to almost no structure, men can exhibit the same signs as someone who is overworked," explains Dr. Randall Paulsen, a psychiatrist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Retirement can also come with changes in a man's relationship with a spouse or partner. "If you have a partner at home who is not used to you being around all the time, there has to be a recalibration," says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Partners in retirement may need time to adjust to the new circumstances. "Older couples have to, in a sense, learn how to enjoy having lunch together," Dr. Paulsen says.
In retirement, you expect to have more time — but to do what? Doing either too little or too much can lead to the same symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, appetite loss, memory impairment, and insomnia.
The solution can be just about anything — from volunteering once a week, to taking a class, to launching a new career — as long as it means something to you personally and keeps you coming back for more. It's a plus if you choose a social activity, because research suggests that social engagement is as important to your health as exercise and a healthy diet.
Dr. Miller cites the example of men who take their interest in a sport or hobby to a new level in retirement. They eagerly read or study to improve their knowledge or skill. They interact with peers who have similar interests. They work with teachers or trainers regularly and stick to a rigorous schedule of practice.
The trick is to find a balance of activities that draw you in and stretch you out. "We grow and keep our brains alive by being engaged with things that challenge us," Dr. Miller says.
Whatever you choose, don't make it too easy — or too hard. A moderate amount of stress lights up our brain circuits and focuses our attention; an overload can do harm. "The sweet spot is the stuff that's just outside your reach, where you have to work and concentrate," Dr. Miller says. "Those are the kinds of challenges that help us feel alive and engaged."
To read more about staying active and healthy as you age, buy A Guide to Men's Health Fifty and Forward, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
For men over 50: Take control of your health
What if men approached their health at midlife the same way that financial experts advise them to plan for retirement? Some of the same rules apply: take a close look at where things stand now, and then take steps to protect your future. Midlife is a good time to lower health risks and invest for long-term health benefits.
How? First, acknowledge what you can't control. Then put your energies into changing what you can — for the better.
What you can't control
You can't change the following factors, but you should take them into account when making a plan to reduce your health risks.
- Age. The aging body undergoes gradual physical changes that are normal and inevitable. Although your body has many built-in repair systems, sometimes these also break down, and over time the damage accumulates.
- Family history. When an immediate family member — a parent or a sibling — develops a problem such as heart disease or cancer, it could mean that you are at risk as well. Shared genes explain some of this risk, but so do shared lifestyles, such as the types of food you eat and how active you are.
What you can control
The factors you can control have a big influence on your health. Here are some of the most important things to consider as you look at the health investments you want to make going forward:
- Whether you smoke. If you smoke, kicking the habit is the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.
- What you eat. Choosing and following a healthy diet is an excellent way to reduce your chances of getting a number of life-threatening illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, and some of the most common cancers.
- How much you move. Get active and you'll live longer. Not only that, but you'll live better, too. Study after study has linked greater amounts of physical activity to improved mood, better blood sugar control, reduced risk of heart disease, and other benefits.
Intrigued? For more information on leading a longer and healthier life, buy A Guide to Men's Health Fifty and Forward, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Men's Health Fifty and Forward
|•||Reduce your risks while building benefits|
|•||How to sidestep major illnesses|
|•||SPECIAL BONUS SECTION|
|•||Tackling disorders before they become disabling|
|•||Managing problems unique to men|
|•||... and more!|
Click here to read more »