Membership of social groups such as book clubs or church groups after retirement is linked to a longer life, with the impact on health and wellbeing similar to that of regular exercise, a new study has claimed.
The more groups an individual belongs to in the first few years after they stop working, the lower is their risk of death, the findings show.
Researchers from University of Queensland in Australia tracked the health of 424 people for six years after they had retired. All the participants were at least 50 years old and lived in England.
Each participant was asked how many different organisations, clubs, or societies, they belonged to, and which ones. They were also asked to complete a validated scale to assess quality of life, and another, to assess subjective physical health.
The results showed that individuals whose quality of life was good before retirement were more likely to score highly on quality of life assessment after retirement.
But membership of social groups was also associated with quality of life. Compared with those still working, every group membership lost after retirement was associated with around a 10 per cent drop in quality of life score six years later.
As many as 28 (6.65 per cent) of the retirees died in the first six years after stopping work. The strongest predictor of death was age, with someone at the age of 55 running a 1 per cent risk of dying compared with an 8 per cent chance for someone aged 65.
If a person belonged to two groups before retirement, and kept these up over the following six years, their risk of death was 2 per cent, rising to 5 per cent if they gave up membership of one, and to 12 per cent if they gave up membership of both.
Researchers separately assessed whether changes in physical activity levels affected risk of death and compared this with the magnitude of the effect of social group membership.
They found that if a person exercised vigorously once a week before retirement, and kept up this frequency afterwards, their chance of dying over the next six years was 3 per cent, rising to 6 per cent if they reduced the frequency to less than once a week, and to 11 per cent if they stopped altogether.
No such patterns were seen for those still in formal employment. Among those who were still working, the equivalent figures were 3 per cent, 5 per cent, and 8 per cent.
“Accordingly, we can see that the effects of physical activity on health were comparable to those associated with maintaining old group memberships and developing new ones,” researchers said.
“In this regard, practical interventions should focus on helping retirees to maintain their sense of purpose and belonging by assisting them to connect to groups and communities that are meaningful to them,” they said. The findings were published in the journal BMJ Open.