Stayin’ Alive

A number of years ago, a study published in the British Medical Journal showed a 20 percent spike in heart attacks at the beginning of the work week, and that men were particularly susceptible. The Monday morning heart attack syndrome suggested it was a return to work after a weekend of leisure that could be a killer. The composition of that leisure, of course, could make an important difference. Vigorous exercise or a six-pack in front of the tube? Nonetheless, according to Harvard Men’s Health Watch, “Stress is the likely explanation for the Monday peak in cardiac risk. Retirees may retain the responses they learned in their working years, and they are certainly susceptible to the hustle and bustle of a Monday morning.”

It’s enough to make you hit the snooze button and pull the covers over your head. Or perhaps take that early retirement package and hit the beach.

But wait. An equally compelling argument has been surfacing that correlates work — that is, work you enjoy, at a pace that you set yourself — with staying healthy. We’ve all heard anecdotes about hard-charging people who retire then become ill and die within a short time. In an earlier post, we mentioned the Shell Oil study of 3,500 employees which showed that people who retired at 55 died earlier than those who stayed on the job until 65. The question that always comes up is, was ill-health a factor in the choice of early retirement?

A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that “complete retirement leads to a 23-29 percent increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activity, an eight-percent increase in illness conditions, and an 11-percent decline in mental health.” Could help explain the well-documented fact that white males over 65 also have the highest suicide rate.

No doubt more research that will clear up causal links between retirement and premature mortality is needed. But we’re persuaded that among all the other benefits it provides — identity, meaning, community, structure, a sense of self-worth, an income — good work is one way to stay alive.  TGIM — Thank God, It’s Monday.

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