Want a longer life? Join the club

6 June 2016

Joining a book club after retirement could extend your life just as much as doing weekly exercise.

Dr Niklas Steffens and Dr Tegan Cruwys of The University of Queensland School of Psychology have published findings that indicate social groups are vital to longevity and wellbeing.

“Retirees reported a 10 per cent drop in quality of life for every group membership they lost after retiring,” Dr Steffens said.

“The research also shows that the more groups an individual belongs to in the first few years after they stop working, the lower their risk of death.

“For retirees who belonged to two social groups before retirement, their chance of death was two per cent if they maintained the same number of groups for six years afterwards.

“For those who lost membership of one group, the risk of death rose to five percent, while those who lost membership of both groups had a 12 per cent chance of dying in the six years that followed.”

Dr Steffens and Dr Cruwys collaborated with UQ researchers Professor Catherine Haslam, Professor Jolanda Jetten and Professor Alex Haslam to track the health of 424 people for six years after they retired.

All of the research subjects were living in England and at least 50 years of age.

The protective effect of maintaining group memberships in reducing the chance of death was similar to the effect of maintaining vigorous exercise over the same period.

If a person kept up one session of vigorous exercise a week in retirement, their chance of death was three per cent in the next six years.

Those who exercised less than once a week had a six per cent chance of death, while those who stopped altogether had an 11 per cent chance.

“Importantly, the benefits from maintaining social group memberships were not affected by the wealth, education or pre-retirement health of each participant,” Dr Cruwys said.

“At present a lot is invested into financial and medical planning ahead of retirement.

“Our research indicates that planning to maintain or increase your social group connections might yield equally high dividends.”

The research is published in BMJ Open.

Words: Rob Burgin

Photo: Niklas Steffans