If you’re dreaming of a relaxing retirement, devoid of work, you might be shortchanging your health. It turns out that, for seniors, remaining engaged in the workforce offers a host of benefits.

As a recent article in the New York Times (NYT) pointed out, numerous studies report the benefits of work in your later years. From anecdotal evidence to empirical research, it seems that signing out of the workforce at age 65 or 66 might not be the wisest decision.  (See: Want to Retire Early? Think Again.)

Although the research is not 100% definitive, there’s enough evidence in favor of working in retirement to suggest that staying active is a smart decision. 

What Are the Benefits of Working After Retirement?

Two positive outcomes are that working longer keeps your brain activated and improves your social life, Nicole Maestas of Harvard Medical School told the NYT. Although researchers previously thought these benefits applied only to better educated and healthier individuals, current research posits that most older workers can benefit from work, both mentally and physically.

Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren, director of research at the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education at the London School of Economics, remarked that the initial retirement period might feel like being on holiday. Yet, he continues, over time, retirees experience the effect of lost capacity. In short, “use it or lose it” applies to both physical and mental capabilities.

Other researchers examining the relationship between work and health in seniors claim that work gives purpose and routine along with a motivation to get going every day. It’s not only the actual work activities that benefit the seniors, but also the community and socialization.

It’s no surprise that additional income from work also makes your senior years easier. Greater income can alleviate financial stressors that might weigh on your well-being as the years and helps ensure that your savings last longer. For example, you will be able to take advantage of any health insurance or other benefits your workplace offers. (Read: Retirement Savings: How Much Is Enough?)

But what if you can't wait to leave a less-than-pleasant workplace? There is an answer for that, too. It seems that even with a bad boss and objectionable colleagues, working longer is better for you than social isolation. These findings were discussed in a National Bureau of Economic Research article by Axel Börsch-Supan and Morten Schuth. Even if you’re not crazy about your co-workers or boss, you still might benefit from working a few hours per week at a job 

The link between working longer and social support gained additional recognition in a study by economists Eleonora Patacchini of Cornell University and Gary Engelhardt of Syracuse University. The study analyzed answers that 1,300 individuals ages 57 to 85 gave to questions about their social networks in both 2005 and 2010. The research – which controlled for marital status, age, health and income – found that those who continued working experienced 25% greater social circles of friends and families compared to those who didn’t work. In fact, retirees who didn’t work found that their social networks declined. In this research, the gains applied predominantly to two groups of people who were college-educated: women and older adults.

AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) is a big supporter of staying active in retirement. From its profiles of second-act seniors to the AARP Foundation Experience Corps, a nonprofit group that places people age 50-plus in elementary schools, this leading research and advocacy group encourages older adults to continue working. The AARP Experience Corps, initiated in 1995, found that program volunteers enjoyed physical benefits of traveling to and from schools along with cognitive advantages from working with children.

The Bottom Line

Today, in contrast with prior generations, Baby Boomers tend to work longer into what used to be the retirement years. These findings about health and other benefits don't necessarily mean that you absolutely must keep on with full-time employment to have an optimum next chapter. An active life could include a second-act career, part-time work or volunteer work. Although there are always exceptions, seniors generally benefit from working later financially, mentally and physically. (You may also be interested in The Most Popular Jobs for People 65 and Older and Best Freelancing Jobs for Retirees.

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