By Don Rauf
THURSDAY, April 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Although aging may mean more physical problems, retirement can help people lead healthier lives, a new study from Australia suggests.
Researchers found that when folks retire they tend to increase their physical activity, sit less and sleep more soundly.
"Our study paints a positive picture of retirement," said lead researcher Dr. Melody Ding, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney's School of Public Health. "Retirees [in the study] were acquiring a healthier lifestyle. Factors that may have contributed to this include availability of time to be physically active and removal from sedentary jobs and work-related stress."
Whether or not these results would be the same in the United States isn't clear. "Retirement and the health benefits of retirement could be very context-specific," she said.
"Life expectancy in Australia -- 82.1 years -- is a few years longer than that in the United States -- 78.7, and there are also different social welfare and health care systems," Ding said. "All of these factors may limit the 'generalizability' of our findings to the U.S."
The study tracked about 25,000 Australians. The average age of those still working was just over 54. During slightly more than three years of follow-up, about 3,100 of the study participants retired.
After retirement, study participants reported increased physical activity levels of about an hour and half a week. Retirees also sat around less -- cutting their sedentary time down by just over an hour each day. And, compared to when they were working, those who retired slept an average of 11 minutes more each day, the research revealed.
The study authors also noted that about half of the women smokers quit after retirement.
No significant link was found between retirement status and alcohol use or eating fruit and vegetables.
The average age for retirement in the United States is 62, according to a 2014 Gallup poll. Ding said the average retirement age in Australia is just over 63 years.
"I think it is important to plan for retired life with a positive mindset," she said. "Some people get anxious about retirement because they may lose a sense of purpose."
Ding recommended pursuing hobbies, volunteering or spending time with loved ones as ways to keep a sense of purpose. She added that retirees might incorporate a social component into a healthy lifestyle, such as catching up with a friend during a walk.
One study participant -- a 89-year-old retired bank manager -- told the researchers, "I have more time in my retirement and I am happily busy. I keep fit by dancing four times a week and walking."
To keep his mind active, this retiree teaches computer skills. The message on his answering machine: "I am out enjoying my retirement."
Rachel Johnson is a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont. "It was encouraging that many of the retirees in this study opted to spend time being more physically active," said Johnson, who is also chair of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. "Being active is important to preventing heart disease and stroke."
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity) to improve overall heart health.
Older adults will also experience benefits if they divide their exercise time into two or three segments of 10 to 15 minutes a day, Johnson said.
She also suggested that older people try these tips to get and keep active:
- Walk a dog.
- Walk at the mall when the weather is too hot or too cold.
- Walk, jog in place or use the treadmill at a gym while you watch your favorite 30-minute show.
- Park the car far from your destination and walk.
- Take the stairs.
- Trade after-dinner dessert for an after-dinner walk.
Ding added that retirement is a good time for doctors to talk to their patients about making positive lifestyle changes that could add years to their life.
The study findings were published recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
For more on how older people can stay fit, visit the American Heart Association.