Health: Why am I still working at 95?

I’m often asked, “Why don’t you stop working?” It’s a good question as many of my friends have left this planet. But I don’t want to get rusty, so I’m happy to have a work routine. Besides, an article from the Harvard Medical School indicates there are health benefits to working longer.

At the time of the Roman Empire, people often died in their twenties. Infectious diseases were the primary cause of death.

Nicole Maestas, an associate professor of health policy at Harvard studies the economics of aging, health and disability. She says, “Today, people who reach 65 years of age, will on average live to 84 years for men and 86 for women. So it’s natural they may be working longer.”

Maestas says there are many reasons. For instance, there are more jobs in today’s information economy requiring less physical work. People are also in better health than 50 years ago.

She adds, “People are also better educated and that some, due to a longer life, must work to support themselves.” The U.S. Bureau of Statistics reports that 32% of people ages 65 to 69 are working and 19%, ages 70 to74, are employed.

But will working longer increase longevity? The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reports that an 18 year study of 3,000 people shows even working one more year beyond retirement was associated with a 9-11% lower risk of dying, regardless of health.

Another study of 83,000 older people over 15 years, published by the Journal Preventing Chronic Disease, had this interesting finding. Those who worked past age 65 were about three times more likely to say they were in good health and half as likely to have serious health problems, such as heart disease and cancer, than those who had retired!

Other studies have linked working past retirement with a decreased risk of heart attack and dementia.

But postponing retirement is not always a prudent decision. For instance, if you have a stressful job that you hate, retiring sooner may add years to your life, as stress can kill. A study of 14,000 people, published in the British Medical Journal, found retiring was linked to a substantial reduction of physical fatigue and depressive symptoms.

Like most things in life, it all depends. But I believe there are few things in life that are better than getting up each day to a job you truly enjoy.

So back to that question, “Why don’t you stop working?” My answer is a very simple one. I am fortunate to have enjoyed a surgical practice and medical journalism for so many years. There are agonizing times in surgery when you have to tell a family that there is nothing further that can be done to save a loved one. This is when you wish you had decided to be an engineer or sell used cars.

In journalism you also soon realize that constant newspaper deadlines never leave you. And that you can’t expect all readers or editors to love you all the time.

But so long as readers respond positively, Hell will freeze over before I stop writing. In fact, finding a way to keep contributing, even after I’m gone, is part of the reason for my new website.

Getting older has its problems but there are some benefits. Abraham Lincoln recognized this when he once remarked, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

And Aristotle correctly remarked, “There are no boy philosophers.” Einstein also philosophized, “I have reached an age when, if someone tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to.”

A former patient often sends me a joke. She knows I believe laughter is good for one’s health. Come what may, I plan to keep on working, and laughter shall be my medicine.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones can be reached at info@docgiff.com

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