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Build Your Career Work-Life Balance

Want to Live Longer? Retire Later

Want to Live Longer? Retire Later
Credit: Lucky Images/Shutterstock

You might want to rethink your plans for an early retirement.

New research in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that those who retire just one year past the normal retirement age of 65 can lower their risk of death from all causes by at least 9 percent, even when demographic, lifestyle and health issues are accounted for.

The results held true not just for healthy adults, but also for those who described themselves as unhealthy. Chenkai Wu, the study's lead author and a doctoral student at Oregon State University, said the results indicate that factors beyond health may affect post-retirement mortality.

"It may not apply to everybody, but we think work brings people a lot of economic and social benefits that could impact the length of their lives," Wu said in a statement.

For the study, researchers analyzed data collected from the Health and Retirement Study, a long-term study of 12,000 U.S. adults led by the University of Michigan. The study's authors narrowed their focus to 2,956 people who began the study in 1992 and had retired by the end of the study period in 2010. [See Related Story: Is Entrepreneurship Good For Your Health?]

Since poor health is often a reason to retire, the study's authors divided the group into unhealthy retirees — those whose health was a factor in their decision to retire — and healthy retirees, whose health was not a factor.

The researchers discovered that the mortality rate was lower for people who worked until age 66, regardless of their health status. Specifically, healthy retirees who worked a year longer had an 11 percent lower risk of mortality, while unhealthy retirees had a 9 percent lower risk of death when they worked one year longer.

"The healthy group is generally more advantaged in terms of education, wealth, health behaviors and lifestyle, but taking all of those issues into account, the pattern still remained," said Robert Stawski, one of the study's authors and an associate professor at Oregon State University. "The findings seem to indicate that people who remain active and engaged gain a benefit from that."

The study's authors believe that more research is needed to help them better understand the links between work and health.

"We see the relationship between work and longevity, but we don't know everything about people's lives, health and well-being after retirement that could be influencing their longevity," Stawski said.

The study, which was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, was co-authored by Michelle Odden, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, and Gwenith Fisher, an assistant professor at Colorado State University.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.