Study suggests working until later in life could also extend life

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Everything ends, that is the sad truth of life. Whether it’s relationships or life itself, everything ends, and it can be upsetting. So too is the end of one’s career, that point of retirement from the working world. However, a new study suggests retirement could have negative physical health consequences as fresh analysis from Harvard Medical School proposes. Their results indicate that working until later in life may also help improve overall longevity and reduce the risk of chronic diseases which could lead to premature death. The study is one which could change perceptions over the benefits of early retirement and raise questions for those wishing to stay on in their career.

The traditional retirement age in the UK and in many countries around the world is around 65. While this is the average retirement age in some nations, others have a more relaxed attitude to how long they will allow someone to work.

Harvard Medical School conducted a review of studies which sought to analyse the benefits of working for longer on longevity. One 2016 study, for example, suggested that working for a year beyond retirement age was associated with up to an 11 percent reduced risk of premature death; this was regardless of the individual’s health at the time.

Furthermore, a 2015 study of 83,000 adults published by the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) found those who retired after the age of 65 were three times more likely to report being in good heath and 50 percent less likely to have heart disease or cancer.

Speaking about the research, Dr Nicole Maestas said that while some studies have found working for longer can benefit, that not all found the same positives: “Some studies find less of a benefit, no benefit, or maybe even harm.”

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Harms of working for longer included:
• Suffering stress on the job
• Increased risk of injury
• Finding a job unstimulating, leading to stress.

Stress is considered to be one of the main risk factors for a range of conditions such as heart disease and stroke, a job which causes prolonged periods of stress will have a greater impact.

Furthermore, should the job be physical demanding e.g., a firefighter, then the risk of injury rises. This is a factor compounded by the increased recovery time for an older individuals compared to a younger employee.

Despite this, Dr Maestas said that overall studies “tend toward the positive” and pointed out that the findings depended very much on the individual and their job in question. For example, someone who works for longer as a banker may have different health outcomes than someone who works for longer as a librarian.

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Why does working for longer help someone to live for longer?

As well as the type of job and the health of the individual, some studies say that the mental stimulation brought about because of a job can help maintain someone’s cognitive performance over a longer period of time.

It is for this reason that working for longer in a job could reduce someone’s risk of diseases affecting the brain such as dementia; however, more research is required into this field before a conclusion can be made.

With regard to whether someone should consider continuing to work, Dr Maestas said: “Yes, if you can. But be smart about what you’re doing.

Don’t stay in a job you hate. Try to find something that’s meaningful and gives you purpose. If you’re happy at work, that’s one sign that work may be good for your health.”

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While staying in employment could help some people increase their longevity, there are other, more obvious ways of increasing one’s lifespan than staying in work. In fact, there is one act which can help reduce the risk of two deadly conditions, dementia and cancer.

According to research conducted by Edith Cowan University, exercise could be key reducing the likelihood of the onset of both dementia and a range of cancers. However, rather than seeking to find out how much exercise was needed, the ECU study wanted to understand if it mattered at all.

Their results suggested that in order for exercise to contribute to improved overall health, that it had to be done regularly rather than with great intensity. What this means is that it is far better to exercise for 20 minutes, four times a week, than to exercise for an hour once a week.

They reached their conclusion after analysis of groups engaging in eccentric contractions; this occurs when the muscle is lengthened such as in the lifting of a dumbbell.

Speaking about the research, Professor Ken Nosaka said: “People think they have to do a lengthy session of resistance training in the gym, but that’s not the case. Just lowering a heavy dumbbell slowly once or six times a day is enough.”

Nosaka added: “Muscle adaptions occur when we are resting; if someone was able to somehow train 24 hours a day, there would be actually no improvement at all.

“Muscles need rest to improve their strength and their muscle mass, but muscles appear to like to be stimulated more frequently.”

With regard to how frequently or how much exercise should be conducted over the course of a week, the NHS recommends at least two-and-a-half hours or 150 minutes as minimum; the more engaged in above this minimum, the better.

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