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Activity levels may decrease after retirement: study

By Andrew M. Seaman

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People may not be as active as they once were after they retire, according to a new UK study.

Men and women living in eastern England reported a significant decline in physical activity after they stopped working, researchers found. The size of that drop varied based on the person's gender and former job.

"It is quite interesting to see the overall net decrease in physical activity," Stephen Kritchevsky said. He is the director of the Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

"What I'd be wondering and concerned about is that the people - when they retire - may not adjust their energy intake to balance their reduction in expenditure," Kritchevsky, who was not involved with the new study, told Reuters Health.

That could lead to weight gain and related health problems, he added.

Recent research has found older people tend to spend most of their time sitting (see Reuters Health story of December 17, 2013 here: http://reut.rs/18X8VYy. But in other studies, retirement was tied to an increase in recreational activity.

For their analysis, Inka Barnett and fellow researchers from the University of Cambridge analyzed data from a study of 3,334 people ages 45 to 79. Participants all lived in Norfolk, UK, and filled out questionnaires about their physical activity at multiple time points.

When people first entered the study between 1997 and 2000, they were all employed. By the time researchers checked in with them again between 2002 and 2006, 785 had retired.

Barnett's team examined changes in participants' physical activity between the start of the study and 2006 to 2007.

Physical activity was measured in metabolic equivalents or METs, which reflect the amount of energy consumed by the body. For example, one MET is equal to the amount of energy it takes to sit still for one hour. Mowing the lawn equals about five METs per hour and running equals about 13 METs per hour.

Not surprisingly, the researchers found being retired was tied to a drop in the amount of energy people exerted working or getting places. But it was linked to an increase in the amount of energy used to do housework and other recreational activities.

Overall, people used less energy after retirement.

Men that retired from a non-manual job used about 41 fewer METs per week compared to about 50 fewer METs per week among those who left a manual or physically demanding job.

For women, retiring from a non-manual job was tied to a drop of 27 METs per week. Retiring from a manual job was linked to a decline of about 32 METs per week.

The researchers write in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that they also found a net increase in the amount of time people spent watching television after retirement.

They caution, however, that the study has limitations.

For example, participants reported their own activity levels and their reports may have been somewhat inaccurate. The researchers also had to exclude many participants who didn't fill out follow-up questionnaires from their final analysis, which may limit how well the study's findings apply to different groups of people.

Kritchevsky said it's not surprising that people's activity levels would change when what happens during eight to 10 hours of their days comes to an end.

"I think it's a time of great transition," he said. "As in many cases through the course of life, when you disrupt schedules and the usual patterns of living, that can have unintended consequences."

People might do better if they have a plan going into retirement, Kritchevsky said.

"Retirement - as is implied by the very word itself - is associated with decreased energy expenditure," he said. "When people retire, people should have a plan about how to engage that free time effectively."

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1cRwYcI Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, online December 2, 2013.

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