Does retirement affect your immune system?

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Does retirement affect your immune system?

Retirement is, undoubtedly, a significant life event. With it comes fundamental changes to your way of life: among other things you have more time, your sources of income change, you leave your social networks behind and your social status shifts (1)(2).

Retirement impacts stress levels

With all that upheaval, it’s hardly surprising that retirement – even when embarked on in a positive frame of mind – is often viewed as a stressful time (1). And stress can have a significant impact on your health.

The potential health consequences of stress include depression, heart disease, cancer and infection (1). After all, an increase in stress level can have a detrimental effect on your immune, hormone and cardiovascular systems. Added to that, stress can cause anxiety or depression, which, in turn, can have a detrimental effect on your health (1).

More generally, stress is also known to affect habits that impact our health, such as smoking, drinking, sleeping, eating and exercising (1). Bearing that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that studies have found people are more likely to have alcohol problems and gain weight after retirement (1).

On the other hand, retirement might, instead, be a relief from a stressful working life (1). Some studies found retirees are not only more likely to have lower stress levels (1) than those still working but also be more likely to quit smoking and exercise regularly (1).

Retirement changes behaviours

Like stress levels, changes in levels of physical exercise can vary enormously after retirement depending on the type of person you are and the type of job you did. With more time on your hands, if you previously got most of your exercise from work, for instance, you may find you do more voluntary exercise in retirement (3).

Your increase in leisure time immediately following retirement can also bring other behaviour changes. With more available, time becomes less precious. Investing in your health – such as by visiting a doctor or cooking healthy food – becomes less costly on your schedule (1).

But, at the same time, retirement may mean you lose any motivation to take care of your health, simply because you no longer need to maximise your productivity (1).

Retirement affects your health

Research has shown that although initially there may be a small improvement in health immediately following retirement, over the medium-longer term retirement causes a drastic decline in health (4). On study found retirement increases the probability of at least one diagnosed physical condition by about 60%, taking a drug for such a condition by about 60% and clinical depression by about 40% (4).

More specifically, research has found retirement significantly increases the risk of being diagnosed with a new chronic disease, such as angina, heart attack, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, cancer or psychiatric problems (1). A new diagnosis can, in turn, also increase health risk factors (such as weight gain, cholesterol levels and blood pressure) along with difficulties with physical activities (5). One study found retirement increased difficulties with mobility and physical activities by as much as 5 to 16 per cent (6) in the first six years following retirement.

But retirement does not harm every retiree, and – if it does – it leads to different conditions (1).

Building your immune system in retirement

In a nutshell, retirement impacts your stress levels, changes your behaviours and affects your health. So, bearing this in mind, how can you build up your immune system in retirement to reduce your chances of getting seriously ill from the flu (7)(8)?

Firstly, stress can take its toll on your body and your immune system. Getting stress under control can not only boost your immune system but also help prevent serious health problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease (9).

Added to that, reduced physical activity has been shown to have a detrimental impact on your immune system (10). Keep moving to build up your immune system (11). Studies have shown that physical activity benefits your immune system in old age (10).

And eat well too (11). It has also been proven that both overweight and underweight increase health risks associated with influenza (12).

Look after your physical and mental health in retirement. Keep your immune system strong – and protect yourself from the flu.



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