It would appear that one way to shorten life expectancy is to retire early. Many who look forward to a life of leisure after retirement, to enjoy a long uninterrupted holiday, will find instead that days become longer and more boring, spent sitting in front of a television set watching repeat pro­­grammes ad nauseam.

The trend these days is for most western nations to slowly increase the retirement age- Maurice Cauchi

And yet, the very mention of extending retirement age is met with unmitigated disgust and opposition. It seems that the vast majority of workers cannot see the point of working one day longer than is absolutely necessary.

Admittedly, most workers are engaged in jobs which, while not back-breaking, are becoming more and more brain-numbing and repetitive. No wonder they look forward for the last day at work as the beginning of a mini-paradise.

Unfortunately, data seems to indicate that facts are somewhat different. Those who keep working beyond their 60s are more likely to age better and enjoy a more rewarding life-style.

They get the feeling that they are still useful to their family and society in general. They have an opportunity and a reason to get out of the house and meet colleagues when they are employed, albeit on a part-time basis.

One study, carried out by the Shell Oil Company showed that those retiring early (at age 55) were at a greater risk of an early death. This may be because those retiring at this early age are more likely to include some people with health problems. In particular, men who retire early are more likely to have an early death compared to women (80 per cent higher chance).

The situation with those retiring later (60+) is not so clear. Some studies involving people retiring at 60, and in good health, seem to show no reduction in life expectancy.

However, an extensive study in Greece involving several thousand healthy men found that early retirees had a 51 per cent increase in their risk of death from heart disease and cardiovascular problems.

The reasons why some people live longer than others are complex and varied. Longevity depends both on our inherited genetic characteristics, as well as the environmental factors which affect us, including particularly those factors that have punished our body, for example, smoke inhalation, overeating, lack of exercise and other toxic practices.

But whatever our basic inherited make-up or other acquired insults, one is more likely to survive longer if one strives to maintain a healthy mind in a healthy body.

This is best achieved through interaction and involvement in society, a very important part of which is continuance at work. Even when this is not an economic necessity, it appears that it has become a biological necessity, emphasising the well-known principle: ‘use it or lose it’.

Many retirees seem to be completely at a loss what to do with their life after retirement. They do not know how to fill their time creatively; they sit around without any active social interaction or mental stimulation. It is this physical and mental inactivity, combined with an enforced isolation, that wreaks havoc with our constitution and could lead to an early demise.

Interesting also is the finding that early retirement does not seem to affect women in the same way as men. This could be because the change in lifestyle on retirement is less abrupt for women compared to men. Women still have their family home that occupies them, they are often much more involved with their family and their children’s family, and in other ways continue the life they had been used to prior to retirement.

The trend these days is for most western nations to slowly increase the retirement age, and to encourage those who wish to remain at work to do so. Recent statistics from Australia have shown that the number of people working in their 70s, 80s and 90s last year had increased by 42 per cent compared to a decade earlier.

It is also well known that many professionals tend to continue their work well past the national retirement average.

In this context, it is worth recalling the famous Whitehall study, which studied health characteristics of a large number of civil servants in Whitehall (London). They were followed up for several years. In this study, while the death rate was not increased in those who retired early, men in the lower social status (such as messengers and cleaners) had a mortality rate that was three times higher than those in the upper grades (such as administrators).

It is likely that what matters most is not whether one retires at a specific age or not, but rather the sort of lifestyle that results from early retirement.

These days one can expect to live for an average of 20 years after retirement. Keeping active, both physically and mentally, is much more important than the precise age of retirement.