Retirement can be wonderful in many ways. Depending on how you structure it, it can be good for your health. But if you find yourself much more isolated and without a social network after retirement, it may have the opposite effect.
For example, having poor social relationships was associated with a 29 percent increase in the risk of heart disease and a 32 percent increase in stroke risk in a study published in July 2016 in journal Heart.
A stressful transition
Those findings are especially important for anyone on the cusp of retirement, in particular people who have been so wrapped up in their careers that the workplace is their whole world and their colleagues represent the bulk of their buddies.
No wonder that many people find the transition from work life to retirement stressful. The much-cited Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, which assigns values to 43 different life events in terms of their potentially negative health effects, ranks retirement at No. 10. By that measure, it’s more stressful than sexual difficulties (No. 13), the death of a close friend (No. 17), or mortgage foreclosure (No. 21).
If you don’t have a post-work network already in place, there are good reasons to start building one sooner rather than later.
Indeed, some studies suggest that the first year of retirement could be particularly hazardous. For example, while retirees overall have a slightly greater risk of cardiovascular disease than their still-working peers, the difference is most dramatic during year one, according to a study published in August 2012 in the journal Social Science & Medicine. Of course some of that difference may accounted for by people who retired because they were beginning to feel the early symptoms of heart disease, the authors note.
What you can to boost happiness
So, what’s a retiree to do? Here are three possibilities:
1. Get a job. Even part-time work will provide human contact, a reason to get up and out of the house, and some beneficial physical activity too.
2. Join a group—or, better yet, several. Retirees with “multiple social identities” (that is, who belong to a number of social groups) reported being in better health and more satisfied with their lives, according to an article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in October 2016.
3. Give back. Helping others, either through formal volunteer projects or simply by being a supportive friend and neighbor, is good for you too. As the Frontiers in Psychology study noted, “it is often not the act of receiving but the act of giving support that is important in promoting health.”
Greg Daugherty is an award-winning writer and editor specializing in retirement topics. He has served as editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest New Choices retirement magazine, executive editor of Consumer Reports, where he wrote a popular column about preparing for retirement, and senior editor at Money. His work has appeared in Money, Smithsonian, Parade, The New York Times, and NextAve.org, among others.