Most of us at work dream of the day when we retire and feel free from the burden of having to earn our living and become, so to speak, people of leisure without a worry in the world. That’s the common dream that I do not share. In fact, I have always feared the day when, through bad heath, I would be compelled to give up work and become, in my view, a man without a proper objective, languishing and waiting for the almighty to take me away, hopefully to his place of residence.
So you can imagine how delighted I was to discover that putting off retirement helps workers stay healthy, according to the chief medical officer. Professor Dame Sally Davies said that those who were approaching retirement should consider working into their late 60s and beyond. She also said that anyone who does leave work should look to keep active with volunteering or a hobby.
Medical advances mean we are living longer – with many remaining fit and healthy well into old age. Dame Sally, who published a major report on the health of the baby-boomer generation of 50-70 year olds, said: ‘People are living longer than ever and so retirement presents a real opportunity for baby-boomers to be more active than ever before.
‘For many people it is a chance to take on new challenges. It is certainly not the start of a slower pace of life it once was.’
Staying in work, volunteering or joining a community group can make sure people stay physically and mentally active for longer. The health benefits for this should not be underestimated. Traditional retirement age – when someone can claim a state pension – is rising from 65 for men and 60 for women. By 2020 it will reach 66 for everyone. Default retirement age was banned in 2011 meaning employers cannot force staff to give up work in their 60s.
The department of health stressed that Dame Sally, nicknamed the government’s ‘nanny in chief’ for her strict instructions about personal health, did not want to pressure workers into carrying on if they wish to retire but, a spokesman said ‘if they feel fit and healthy they may benefit from staying at work’.
Life expectancy in old age has risen to its highest ever. Men who live to 65 can expect to survive for 19 more years while women can expect another 21 according to the latest data gathered in 2014. In 2002 men at the age of 65 could be expected to live for just another 16 years and women for 19.
More than three quarters of those between 50 years old and pensionable age are in active employment and 12% of those older than the state pension age still work. By 2020 it is estimated that a third of workers will be over the age of 50. Those who stay in work generally have better health, research suggests. Staying socially and intellectually active is also known to ward off the risk of dementia, while keeping physically active reduces the chance of cancer and heart disease as well as fighting obesity.
For some, giving up work is a welcome break but for others it can lead to social isolation, experts say. Paul Green of Saga said: ‘For many people the abolition of the default retirement age was a blessing as it allowed them to work for longer and enjoy the social, physical and mental wellbeing it gave them.
‘In fact, there are now more than 1.24 million over 65s who have taken advantage of the changes and remain in work, a 48% increase since 2011. However, for some, the idea of working until they are in their 70 fills them with dread.’
As I said at the outset, for me to stop working will signal the termination of my life prematurely which would be dreadful.