Recently, I have been reading a series of brilliant blogs by Richard King aka the BionicOldGuy. A Mechanical Engineer in his mid 60’s with a lifelong passion for the outdoors – very much a man after my own heart. He chronicles his efforts to stay fit, healthy and active despite all the curved balls that life throws at us.
One of his blogs briefly covered the purpose in life when we reach retirement age, and its impact on our physical and mental health. This got me thinking about the way we live our lives and more importantly, the way we approach retirement.
From the age of 5 years we start to attend fulltime education, this leads through Primary to Secondary school, then college and university to work, or directly from school to work. Either way, we then work through until we are 65 (ish). Every morning, for 60 years, we have had a reason to get up and get going – we have had a purpose in life.
Then, all of a sudden that stops! What happens next, where do we go from here, how does this effect you?
In 2012 a scientific paper was published detailing the correlation between Alzheimer disease (AD) and the purpose in life . It set out to ‘test the hypothesis that purpose in life reduces the deleterious effects of AD pathologic changes on cognition in advanced age’.
The results showed that ‘participants who reported higher levels of purpose in life exhibited better cognitive function’ and that ‘higher levels of purpose in life reduced the effect of AD pathologic changes on cognitive decline’.
The conclusion to the research was that ‘higher levels of purpose in life reduce the deleterious effects of AD pathologic changes on cognition in advanced age’.
Purpose in life is not just restricted to Alzheimer disease but encompasses all conditions that affect the aging population. Further studies have shown that purpose in life is associated with other protective effects—a 50 percent reduction in stroke, heart attack, and all-cause mortality, for example .
So what does all of this mean for you and me as we approach retirement or have already retired. Basically what it is saying is – having spent 60 years of your life with a purpose (education & work), it is crucial for our physical and mental health that we maintain that purpose.
There are many ways that this can be achieved, and they do not all involve extreme physical exercise! Something as simple as volunteering for a local group in a field that interests you. This could a conservation group, a charity shop, the local Parish Council or a whole host of projects.
Alternatively you could take up walking or playing golf, swimming or yoga. Anything that will make you want to get up in the morning rather than stay in bed until mid-morning then watch TV all day.
Many of my contemporaries have maintained a regime into retirement, where they get up and take a walk or go for a swim most mornings. Then later in the day they either tend their gardens/allotments, volunteer at the local charity shop or play a round of golf. The important thing is that whatever they do, they are doing something that maintains that Purpose In Life.
- Boyle, P, et al, “Effect of Purpose in Life on the Relation Between Alzheimer Disease Pathologic Changes on Cognitive Function in Advanced Age”, Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2012
- Lei, Yu, et al, “Purpose in Life and Cerebral Infarcts in Community-Dwelling Older People”, Stroke 2015 Apr, 46(4): 1071 – 1076.
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