21 November 2012

UniSA researchers say planning for a physically and cognitively active retirement is as important as financial planning000020440574 In the lead up to retirement, a talk to your accountant and your super fund manager will rate high on the  “to do” list, but University of South Australia researchers are saying it is just as important to develop a plan of action for your health, fitness and well being.

In a new study exploring people’s activity patterns post retirement, researchers in Health Sciences believe the transition to retirement may bring about marked changes in activity levels which can have broader health impacts.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Carol Maher says people just don’t plan for living without the structure of work in their lives.

“A lot of retirees plan a holiday but beyond that, there is a lot of time to fill when they come home and back to the reality of life without work,” Dr Maher says.

“We believe that daily activity patterns will have important consequences for well being, not only for physical health but for cognitive function for sleep and continued socialisation.”

Dr Maher, Professor Tim Olds and their research team have begun a study following people from just prior to retirement to 18 months post retirement to track activity and lifestyle changes and develop some guidelines for planning for healthy lifestyle in retirement. 

“We’re already turning up some interesting results that show people are not necessarily doing less, they are just doing different things in different ways,” she says.

Early results show that post retirement, people are spending more time doing chores almost an hour more indoors and 26 minutes outdoors mainly gardening. Retirees are also spending an hour more each day in front of a screen and most of that is on computers and the internet rather than television.

They spend more time socialising at parties and just talking to friends and family – up by about 42 minutes. And there is an extra 25 minutes spent on cooking and 23 minutes driving.

“What is emerging is a pattern that shows people are pottering about after they retire, doing about as much but with less intensity – so they may do less moderate and intense physical activity but they also do less sitting about, less lying on the couch after a hard day at work.”

Dr Maher says people’s daily activity patterns change dramatically when they stop working.

“All those hours that were spent at work can be spent on something else but the freedom to make those choices represents an opportunity and a risk for health,” she says.

“People who had quite physical jobs will lose activity when they stop work and most people will lose easy access to social interaction and cognitive challenges.

“These factors are at least as important to wellbeing as anything else, especially when considering neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s.”

She says the adage - use it or lose it is – applies to brain and body and planning for physical, intellectual and cognitive stimulation in retirement is as important as making financial plans.

Dr Maher’s health hit list for people approaching retirement

  • Plan to be physically active every day
  • Plan ways to get social interaction – you can work part time, volunteer, join a community or social club.
  • Set some cognitive challenges – for example join a book club, amateur astronomy club or a chess group.
  • Have a daily routine that gives structure to the day and keeps you busy doing the things you find worthwhile.

Overseen by Professor Tim Olds and Dr Carol Maher from UniSA, the study is being conducted in collaboration with researchers based at the University of Queensland.

The team is hoping to recruit more participants and is looking for people living in or near Adelaide who are retiring in the next one to six months.

The study will involve two appointments at UniSA and eight phone calls, over an 18 month period.

Participants receive a free health screen (cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure etc) and $150 in appreciation of their time and effort.

People can contact PhD candidate Judy Sprod, on judy.sprod@unisa.edu.au or phone (08) 8302 1741 to register their interest in joining the study.

Media contact: Michèle Nardelli office: 08 8302 0966 mobile: 0418 823 673 email: michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au

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