Page last updated at 12:02 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Retiring 'is new lease of life'

Playing boules
French workers felt their health improve on retirement

Most people feel younger and healthier soon after retiring, a study of French workers has found.

Researchers looked at 15,000 employees over the best part of a decade, and found they felt up to 10 years younger within months of retirement.

The greatest improvements in perceived health were among those who came from a poor working environment.

Those who were in high-status, high-satisfaction jobs showed the least change, The Lancet study reports.

The researchers asked employees from the French national gas and electricity company to rate their own health up to seven years before retirement and up to seven years after.

The team, from Stockholm University and University College London, found that the number reporting their health as below par fell from 19% in the year before retirement to 14% in the year after.

This, they calculated, corresponded to a gain in health of eight to 10 years.

Keep on working

The authors suggest that improving people's working conditions is essential if the burden of perceived ill-health is to be minimised at a time when societies are moving towards keeping people in the workforce for longer.

Our findings should cause concern for policy makers attempting to persuade workers to stay longer in the workforce
Hugo Westerlund
Report author

"Arguably the best option is to redesign working life for older workers to make it healthier and more satisfying than at present," said lead researcher Dr Hugo Westerlund, of the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University.

This, he said, would "hopefully achieve improved occupational health and quality of life, increased productivity, and a larger proportion of the population in work".

Other research has found that the actual health gap between the lowest and highest paid occupation groups widens on retirement.

A study of thousands of British civil service workers found the average physical health of a 70-year-old who had been a high earner was similar to the physical health of a low earner around eight years younger.

But US research has also highlighted health benefits of staying on in work in some capacity, be it on a temporary or part-time basis.

Dr Johannes Siegrist from the University of Dusseldorf wrote in an accompanying editorial that the implications for policy of the French study were convincing.

"If poor quality of work reduces health and wellbeing of aged workers and reduces the participation of this age group in the labour force, efforts need to be directed towards improving healthy work at the level of single organisations and companies, and at the level of national labour and social policies."

Andrew Harrop of Age Concern and Help the Aged said: "While many people can't wait to retire, others want to continue working in later life, whether it's because they enjoy their jobs or to boost their retirement income.

"Working into later life will bring many benefits to our economy and to the individual, but this will only be achieved if employers are willing to adapt to older workers' changing needs.

"More flexible working, particularly to take account of more chronic health conditions that are suffered in later life would also give employees the confidence to continue working into later years."

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