Think Yourself Young

Recently I read of two Christchurch friends both aged 97 who are still working. One of them, Russell Toon, was quoted as saying “if you exercise you mind and your body all your life, you’ll live a full life and won’t go seedy”.

That sounds right: my basic inclination is to agree with Mr Toon. As evidence, I think of all sorts of people I know who have continued working and stayed active far beyond the norm.

My unscientific observation is that those who enjoy long and active lives think of themselves as young and, in doing so, are young. Napolean Hill wrote a book called “Think Your Way to Wealth”. It seems that a positive attitude and a commitment to keep on keeping on might mean that you think your way to a long and fruitful life.

But, is it right? Is there any real evidence which would confirm the idea that we should forgo the rocking chair and carry on at the coal face?

And so, I had a look at the fountain of all knowledge: Google. I put “working in retirement living longer” into the search engine and dozens of links to surveys and studies appeared.

There are some studies that show little effect of continuing to work but on balance, it seems that working in retirement is good for just about everything:, social life, mental acuity, fitness, relationships and, most importantly, longevity.

Of course, correlation is not causation and the reasons for greater longevity are often speculated on. My (unproven) theory is that retirees often find the change from work to retirement difficult and, being officially “retired”, start to think themselves old. On retirement, just about every aspect of life changes – all of a sudden, we have to learn to live a different life.

Retirement is a developmental stage which comes at a time of life when we are no longer terribly good at change. Retirement is difficult, even depressing, for some, who prematurely start to think themselves old.

Interestingly, early retirement does not seem to affect longevity: one study showed that if you retire at (say) age 55, you may live longer than if you keep working.

Those who retire early may manage the changes of retirement better because they are doing it at a younger age: a 55-year-old can cope with the changes better than a 65-year-old. These fortunate few probably have fewer financial worries but, most importantly, early retirees do not have to cope with thinking themselves old simply because they have hit retirement age. When they do reach 65, it is just another birthday – nothing to get depressed about.

Regrettably, retirement at age 55 is only an option for a few. The rest of us should probably carry on doing what we have always done, stepping work down gradually to allow us the leisure to do the things left undone and, as much as we can, never think ourselves old or seedy.

Martin Hawes is the Chair of the Summer KiwiSaver Investment Committee. He is an Authorised Financial Adviser and a disclosure statement is available on request and free of charge, or can be found at www.martinhawes.com.

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