Fitness: retirement is more than a chance to get back on your feet

A sedentary lifestyle does not bode well for long-term health, especially as you age.

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When you think about retirement, are you more or less active than you are now? Are you looking forward to sleeping more, enjoying a good book and spending time on the beach? Or is your idea of ​​retirement filled with daily rounds of golf, tennis, or pickleball between active vacations filled with hiking, biking, and walking?

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Studies tracking the lifestyle habits of new retirees provide insight into activity trends. For most people, saying goodbye to the 9-to-5 grind means more sleep and more time with your feet up. It may sound great, but a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t bode well for long-term health, especially as you age. Regular activity not only delays some of the physical and mental decline associated with aging, but it also improves health, mood, energy levels and social engagement..

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Interestingly, physical activity behaviors in retirement can often be linked to occupation. Those in manual jobs tend to become more sedentary in retirement, while those working in an office environment become more active. But everyday lifestyle changes rarely happen in isolation. When 24-hour movement patterns include extra sleep, does that mean less time spent watching TV? Or is it more likely to lead to less daily exercise?

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“The transition to retirement has been shown to affect sleep, sedentary time, and physical activity, but no previous studies have examined how retirement alters the distribution of daily time spent in these movement behaviors,” said said a group of Finnish researchers in a recent publication in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

The researchers assessed the lifestyle habits of 551 public sector employees (average age 63) during their first year of retirement. Using a wrist-worn accelerometer, the subjects’ movement patterns were recorded around the clock for a full week before and after their last day of work, about a year apart.

Data on retirees were broken down by occupation and gender. Manual workers included health care aides, cooks, cleaners and maintenance workers, while teachers, doctors, registered nurses and technicians were classified as non-manual workers. The portion of time spent in sleep, light physical activity, moderate to vigorous physical activity, and sedentary activities was counted based on information collected by accelerometers.

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Before retirement, women (who represented 86% of study subjects) slept eight hours a night, spent 11 hours in sedentary activities, four hours in light physical activity, and 50 minutes in moderate-to-vigorous activity per day . Men recorded 16 minutes less sleep, 60 minutes more sedentary time and 46 minutes less light activity than women. Women and men recorded the same number of minutes for moderate to vigorous daily activity.

As for the impact of occupation on their daily commuting patterns before retirement, manual workers recorded less sedentary time and more physical activity than their desk-bound counterparts – a consistent trend among men and women. women. That changed within the first year of retirement.

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“Manual workers’ daytime hours were more sedentary after retirement compared to pre-retirement workdays,” the researchers said. “Thus, physical activity at work may have been partly replaced by sedentary activities like watching television after retirement.”

For non-manual workers, lifestyles evolved a little differently. Sleep improved, with a decrease in time spent sedentary and an increase in physical activity, which researchers say is linked to less time spent sitting behind a desk.

Women in manual occupations experienced the greatest change in daily living habits after retirement, sleeping 45 minutes more, spending 64 minutes less on light physical activity, and 17 minutes less on moderate-to-vigorous activity. Sedentary time increased by 36 minutes. Men who retired from manual occupations experienced a smaller increase in sleep and sedentary activities compared to physical activity.

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There was also a decrease in moderate-to-vigorous activity in both types of workers – up to 17 minutes a day – which the researchers believe may be linked to a change in travel habits. With no buses or trains to catch and no clocks to punch, retirees slept a little longer and started their day slower and less actively. Also noteworthy is the popularity of active transportation among the Finnish population, which the researchers believe could be another reason why activity, especially moderate-to-vigorous intensity, dropped after retirement.

The data collected by the Finnish researchers is similar to other studies indicating that for a large subset of the population, retirement leads to a more sedentary lifestyle. There is also a greater decline in moderate to vigorous activity than in light activity. Both of these changes could have negative health consequences. But there are mitigating factors.

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“Non-manual workers appeared to replace some sedentary time with sleep, which may benefit the health of those who did not get enough sleep before retirement,” the researchers said.

That said, extra sleep shouldn’t come at the expense of less daily physical activity. We all look forward to a few extra minutes of sleep when there’s no deadline to meet, but a lazy start shouldn’t carry over into the rest of the day.

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