Probably the worst time to look into what science says about health in retirement would be about a year and a half into such a change in lifestyle, since it’s a little late to panic, but let’s give it a try and see how depressing it might be. The word “delusion” turns up in one report from NPR, an organization that I once considered a friend. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health conspired to poll pre- and post-retirees on how the former expect their health to be in retirement and how it is actually turning out for the latter.
Thirteen percent of pre-retirees say their health will be worse once they retire than it was during the five years prior to retirement, while 39% of actual retirees say that it is worse. This leads to snarky comments from some researchers, such as “the poll results look to me like a lot of that optimism was drawn from a deep well of self-delusion” and “Hello. That’s what getting older is eventually about. We’re all going to have serious health problems in retirement, and eventually really serious health problems.” Thank Jeff Goldsmith, a health care futurist and author of The Long Baby Boom: An Optimistic Vision for a Graying Generation, a book about aging baby boomers, for being so tactful. Jeff himself graduated from college for the first time in 1970, putting him, if I’m not deluding myself about my dwindling math skills, smack in the middle of the boomers he’s writing about. He is, in other words, entitled to his informed and evidence-based opinion. Damn.
In the same poll the pre-retirees were also more optimistic about how happy they’d be in retirement, with 5% saying they expected to be less happy, while 17% of post-retirees reported that in fact they were unhappier than in the preceding five years. Maybe they somehow managed to get a peek at the health portion of the same survey.
A metanalysis from 2013 might be reassuring to folks spending most of their day in front of a computer screen, such as…just to choose a random example…a lot of librarians. It found that while some retirees follow up on their good intentions by actually increasing their physical activity level, that still “did not make up for the loss of work-related physical activity, especially for those who previously worked in physically demanding occupations.” Based on that, for many of us simply getting vertical and not spending seven or eight hours glued to a monitor would qualify as a step in the right direction. Pacing while binge-watching something on Netflix could be seen as the equivalent of training for the Iron Man Triathlon.
Even strenuous exercise such as that can’t delay forever the downward march of the line on life’s graph, as our friend Jeff Goldsmith suggested earlier. What about that? Any progress in delaying the inevitable final exit? A search on the term “anti-aging” in Google turns up an amazing number of creams (one even endorsed by the interesting Dr. Oz) guaranteed to remove/control facial wrinkles. Now this would be intriguing if a high percentage of elders died of facial wrinkles, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, so a little more digging was required.
“Extending life” seems to be the term that succeeds in Google, producing a number of hits that appear to range from science to sciency to the domain of Professor Marvel, who is (spoiler alert) the Wizard of Oz (not the same as above, probably), and also the snake oil selling counselor to Dorothy. You’ll find seven ways to extend life as well as the possibility that humans could live 500 years or 800 years…take your pick. It could be gene manipulation or it could be dietary or it could be a pill or it could be as simple as closing the shutoff valve and opening the drain at the bottom…wait…. That last one seems to be to extend the life of your water heater, which was mixed in with the human longevity articles along with one for extending the battery life of your IPod and another to extend the life of your dog. Useful if you do pass 150 and beyond but not directly pertinent.
In what appears to be real science, David Sinclair of Harvard reported that his research team “had been able to drastically reduce the functional ‘age’ of muscle tissue. Treating the mice with the metabolic co-enzyme NAD+ effectively reversed the aging process within the skeletal muscle by increasing muscle tone and producing effects similar to eating a healthy diet and exercising.” While human testing is now ongoing, the original laboratory and specimens are inaccessible since the newly muscular mice overthrew their masters and have blockaded the doors. Negotiations are taking place via Twitter, which the mice quickly became as adept at as most human users.