#001 Can You Really Prevent Alzheimers Disease By Not Retiring?

Recently, I saw the news headlines from around the world—if you work longer you can help to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease.  Is this really the case? Do we really want to work forever?

For years I killed myself at work. I worked long hours. Like most Americans, I did not take my full vacation time. I burned out. My goal was to work as hard as I could, save our money, and retire early so that I could then kick back and relax.

Needless to say, this approach nearly killed me. My health suffered. The goal is to pace yourself at work and enjoy each and every day of life along the journey.

What does it mean to keep working and not retire?

Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease by Not Retiring Study

This controversial study was presented at the recent Alzheimer’s Conference in Boston.  As it was just a one page abstract, the actual study has not yet been peer reviewed or published in a medical journal.  Thus, the findings of this study can be considered preliminary at this time.

This study reviewed 430,000 French retirees and evaluated the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease based on the age of retirement.  Based on this study, the authors concluded that for each year you delayed retirement your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease decreased by 3.2%.

My Take on this Study

The findings of this study are in line with what we are seeing in other studies.  Namely, with regards to the mind the old adage “use it or lose it” really is important.

As a cardiologist, I am always worried when I hear my patients tell me they are ready to retire.  This is especially true for men as their job is often their reason to get up each morning and often the main source of their social interaction.  For a man, one of the most dangerous days of their lives is the day they “retire”.

My wife and I, along with our research team, have been studying a remote village in China near the Vietnam border. In this village people just don’t get sick and they live these amazingly long and healthy lives free of disease including Alzheimer’s Disease.

When we ask them if they look forward to their “retirement” they all laugh.  To them, there is no concept of retirement.  You never withdraw from the Village. You always contribute in some way.

Does Retirement Need to be Redefined?

Perhaps the problem is how we have defined retirement.  For many of us, while slaving away in the daily grind of our jobs, we dream of retiring and sitting next to the pool or playing golf each day.  For many of my patients who have “achieved” this dream life, they quickly find that it soon becomes old.  Many are looking for a new reason to live.

Perhaps retirement should be redefined as going from a “for profit” to a “non-profit” focus.  Instead of working for “the man”, perhaps it is time for us to work for ourselves, for our families, or for the community when it comes to “retirement.”

Thus, when it comes to retirement and preventing Alzheimer’s Disease let me suggest the following:

1. Enjoy Your Work Today

If you are in a job that you hate, what can you do to change things? Do you need to look for new employment? Can you get paid for doing what you love?

2. Take All of Your Vacation Time

Taking vacation time is critical to your health. Never let a day go unused. Pace yourself.

3. Never Stop Learning

To enjoy your current career, you can never stop learning. This will also keep your mind sharp and Alzheimer’s at bay.

4. Work Reasonable Hours

In the U.S. we work longer hours than the rest of the world. Studies show that when we work more than 40 hours a week we significantly increase our risk of heart disease. Are we really contributing the most when we are burned out and worked to the bone?

As you get further along in your career, perhaps you start scaling back the hours or even work part-time as a consultant.

Regardless, don’t neglect yourself in the name of your job. Make sure you have enough time to eat right, exercise regularly, and can spend meaningful time with your family and friends.

5. Find a Meaningful Second Career

When you are ready to move on to “retirement” find a meaningful second career. People who volunteer enjoy much more fulfilling and healthier lives. There is so much you can do to make the world a better place.

What do you think?  Do we have the concept of retirement all wrong in the U.S.? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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