AGING
December 6, 2010

Fatigued? Depressed? Retire!

Workers with exhaustion and depression felt significantly better after they retired. But is it not working that did it?

If you’re feeling fatigued and depressed, and your job seems to be the culprit, there may be hope in the following remedy: retirement. A new study set out to determine whether these ailments as well as chronic health conditions might be alleviated after participants retired.

The authors point out that after retirement, people are able to take part in activities that help restore energy, like exercise and other enjoyable activities and hobbies.

Researchers questioned over 11,000 men and women periodically seven years before they retired and seven years after retirement. Participants were asked about depression and fatigue (both mental and physical), and they reported on other health problems like diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, and respiratory disease.

Before they retired, one quarter of the participants suffered from depression, and 7% were afflicted with one of the four health problems mentioned above. After they retired, however, depression was significantly reduced; even greater declines were observed in the mental and physical fatigue of the participants. There was no reduction in diabetes, stroke, heart disease, or respiratory disease after retirement.

The results of the study may be intuitive, and the researchers suggest that removing the "source of the problem" (namely, work) may be what’s behind the reduction in depression and fatigue. It may also be that people worry less about their energy levels after retirement, so they rate their energy as higher. Finally, the authors point out that after retirement, people are able to take part in activities that help restore energy, like exercise and other enjoyable activities and hobbies. The research team hopes that public policy may be reevaluated, since depression and fatigue in aging workers may be a key cause for loss of productivity and, possibly, for early retirement.

If you’re feeling depressed and fatigued as you approach retirement, take heart in the encouraging results of the study. While retirement may not prevent heart disease per se, it may mend the heart in other, less tangible ways.

The study was conducted by researchers at Stockholm University and University College London, and published in the November 23, 2010 online issue of BMJ.

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