Working for the health of it

Could working longer be the key to healthy aging?

Created date

May 9th, 2018
Dolores Andrew (pictured here with her husband Hugh) is a self-employed artist, instructor, and jurist at art shows. The couple lives at Oak Crest, a senior living community in Maryland.

Dolores Andrew (pictured here with her husband Hugh) is a self-employed artist, instructor, and jurist at art shows. The couple lives at Oak Crest, a senior living community in Maryland.

When Sandra Schipul moved to Linden Ponds, a senior living community in Hingham, Mass., she had no plans to retire from the job she loved. For ten years, Schipul has worked as a sales associate at Pink Tulip Clothes & Accessories, a fashionable women’s boutique in Cohasset. “I personally believe having an outside interest and getting up and going somewhere keeps you young,” she explains.

Schipul is among a new generation of older adults choosing to work beyond traditional retirement age. According to Pew Research Center, more seniors are working today than at any time since the turn of the century. In fact, nearly 19% of Americans age 65-plus report working full or part time. That’s about 19 million people.

What accounts for this growing desire to remain active in the workforce longer? The answer may lie in the changing notion of retirement itself.

Redefining the meaning of retirement

For many years, retirement was viewed as a withdrawal from society and the working world. Consider the stereotypical image of a senior in a rocking chair. Now, as people live longer and healthier lives, the concept of retirement is undergoing a rapid transformation.   

“Today, retirement is increasingly seen as a beginning, not an ending,” says Tom Neubauer, executive vice president of sales, marketing, and communications at Erickson Living, a leader in the senior living industry with 19 retirement communities across the county. “This generation actively seeks out opportunities to be engaged, learn new things, share their many skills, and make a difference in their communities and beyond.”

For Jerry Rosen, a resident of Brooksby Village in Peabody, Mass, making a difference means working part time in a field he loves. Rosen has been employed at Salem State University since 1968. Today, he works in the noncredit community enrichment program four mornings a week.

“I continue to work as it makes me feel worthwhile. I also enjoy interacting with my colleagues and the students,” he explains.

Could work be good for your health?

The social interaction that Rosen describes is among the many benefits of working into retirement. Mounting evidence suggests that seniors who work even just a few hours a week enjoy better overall health and well-being.

Consider all the times you’ve chatted with colleagues around the water cooler. You may not realize it in the moment, but you’re doing more than just catching up on last night’s ballgame or the latest hit movie. You’re making social connections and interacting in a way that’s crucial to healthy aging.

Work may even help stave off dementia and other forms of cognitive decline. A sweeping 2013 study by the French government agency Inserm analyzed almost half a million workers and found that those who delayed retirement experienced lower rates of dementia than those who retired early.

This could be because work involves learning new skills and solving problems—two activities commonly associated with brain and memory health.    

Finding purpose and passion in work

A benefit that can’t be easily measured is the sense of purpose often found in work. Dolores Andrew is a self-employed artist, instructor, lecturer, and jurist at art shows across the mid-Atlantic. “Art has been my life’s passion,” says the resident of Oak Crest retirement community in Parkville, MD.

Andrew and her husband Hugh, who she jokingly calls her "roadie," travel widely in the festival and lecture circuit. Although not technically retired, they enjoy the freedom and peace of mind that living at a retirement community brings.

“Living at Oak Crest has given us a feeling of security and comfort while we’re on the road, busy, but enjoying new experiences at each location,” says Andrew.

Retirement communities offer a unique work-life balance

Retirement communities like Oak Crest are becoming a popular choice for career-minded seniors. These communities are free from the maintenance and repairs that can eat into valuable free time. Instead of coming home to a fresh to-do list, residents can relax with a dip in the swimming pool or dine with friends at one of several on-site dining venues. No dirty dishes to tackle afterward!

It’s a lifestyle that suits Schipul just fine. “My husband also works, and we both love coming home to Linden Ponds and not having to worry about going food shopping or cooking a meal. Everything is done for us,” she says.   

Rosen enjoys coming home to a community filled with great neighbors. “After working a busy day at the university, I look forward to returning to Brooksby Village to see my friends and enjoy all the activities,” he explains.

Blazing a path for future generations

Today’s working seniors are trailblazers, according to Neubauer. “They’re pioneering a whole new way to think about what we traditionally call 'the retirement years.' More than that, they’re forcing companies, communities, and younger generations to think about it too.

“Now,” he adds, “it’s up to the rest of us to keep up.”