Do you want to avoid dying early? If so, it’s time to rethink retirement.
Early retirement is a popular dream with a whole movement devoted to it: FIRE, or financial independence, retire early. Advice abounds for retiring at 60, 50 even 35. Soon, people will push for 25, I’m sure. But be careful. Recent research shows early retirement kills. Literally.
For years, conventional wisdom – plus research – supported FIRE’s momentum. Studies showed early retirees living longer and were happier. Newer research disagrees.
A December 2017 paper by Professors Maria D. Fitzpatrick and Timothy J. Moore for the National Bureau of Economic Research showed male mortality rates rose 2% starting the month men turn 62. After analyzing data deeper, they blamed heightened mortality risk on “retirement from the labor force and associated lifestyle changes.”
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Those changes included less physical activity, mental stimulation and social interaction. Last October, Alice Zulkarnain and Matthew Rutledge, researchers for the Boston College Center for Retirement, documented working longer equals living longer.
These studies may have baked-in biases. Healthier people can probably work longer. So delayed retirement could be an effect, not a cause, of a longer life. Those retiring super early likely want to do other things. They have spirit. Those who keep working past 65 probably like their jobs. They have spirit, too, just a different one.
To me, the lesson isn’t to work longer or shorter. Rather, have spirit. Find something you enjoy doing. Then work at it, whether for money or not. If you like your 9-to-5 gig, and the camaraderie and intellectual stimulation, keep going. But if your job is merely for money, and you’re desperate to quit once you’ve saved enough, turn in your retirement letter and plot your labor of love. You could volunteer, change fields or start a business doing something that jazzes you.
Regardless, the key is to retire from joyless work – and work at something joyful. Being sedentary invites early death. Even if you’re active at home, you risk social isolation, which can cause depression. If you don’t use your brain, cognitive function declines, increasing risks like early dementia. Crosswords and brainteasers, though popular, aren’t enough to replicate the mental challenges our brains undergo at the office.
To maximize your retirement, make a checklist of things you’ll need to stay fit and happy. Social interaction. Physical movement. Challenges for your brain. Then, go get ’em. Crafts? Classes in leatherwork? Ceramics? Jewelry making? OK, but work at it. Maybe start your own Etsy shop. But work at it. Volunteering? Try AARP’s volunteering search engine, Create the Good. Search topic and ZIP code for what’s near you. Then, walk or bike there.
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Are you outdoorsy, like me? Maybe lead hikes at your local nature reserve. Golf lovers can be “rangers” or “starters” – often earning free tee times, too. Plant lovers can start community gardens. Bookworms may like working at local shops or running book clubs. Foodies could start simple neighborhood cafés (but skimp on chomping those calories). Or maybe launch a tech startup in your 60s, as legendary multibillionaire David Duffield did with Workday. As long as you have spirit, vision and dedicated activity, life lingers longer and better.
I’m 68 and simply love working. But, even if you’re decades from retiring, start deliberating this now. If you’re 40 and plan to leave your rat race at 55, starting anew, ramp up your savings now to prepare. And prep for your lifestyle-altered labor of love. Envision your dream work, set goals, get to it, and you will probably get an exhilarated, elongated life, too.
Ken Fisher is founder and executive chairman of Fisher Investments, author of 11 books, four of which were New York Times bestsellers, and is No. 200 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. Follow him on Twitter: @KennethLFisher
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.