It must have been about a decade ago. It was another snowy day like today. I awoke at the break of dawn, and rushed out the door to the hospital that was several miles away. Leaving so early in the morning, the expressways hadn’t even been plowed yet. I did this often. Jumped into the car during inclement weather. While most were waiting out the storm, I was cruising to the first of many destinations. There was so much to do. So much that wouldn’t get done that day when I lost control of the car and bumped into a semi. I walked away physically unharmed, but my car was totaled. This morning I was faced with the same situation, but my circumstances have changed. Fully ensconced in my half retirement, I had no reason to rush out the door. My errands could wait. It makes me realize that retirement is more healthy than the way I used to live.
All these years I have been taking risks and battering my body. It is time to stop.
Looking back now, it’s shocking how much risk I took in the name of work. I traveled through just about every storm that hit the Chicagoland area over the last ten years. No matter how bad the roads, I had a job to do. Hospitals don’t close. Patients don’t all of a sudden get better because of a storm.
I took my responsibilities seriously to everyone else, but not to myself. I risked life and limb and suffered through rain, sleet, snow, and bitter temperatures. Luckily I was only in one accident.
My half retirement schedule is more healthy. I can decide to not show or arrive late once the streets have been cleared. There is no life or death situation that needs my immediate tending. And if worse comes to worst and I can’t make it into a meeting, I can take it by phone.
Another luxury of late is sleep. I am actually sleeping 7 to 8 hours a day now. This is far more than I had in the past. Not only would I go to bed late and wake up early, I would often get interrupted throughout the night by phone calls. My quality of sleep was lousy.
Retirement is more healthy. I am sleeping more and getting interrupted less. My body clock is already shifting. Before I would automatically wake up at 4 a.m. Now if left alone, I will sleep soundly till 7 a.m.
I feel more energetic and fall asleep less on the couch. Furthermore, being well rested has even elevated my mood. The world seems a whole lot more manageable on a full night of sleep.
Work is horrible on diet. It seems every nursing station and meeting is accompanied by bagels, doughnuts, cookies, and candy. There is no end to the junk that ironically is shoveled in by health care workers. And it is not just about availability.
Stress is a major factor. When faced with little time and high stress, sweets often become the go-to munchy when on the run. It is no wonder that doctors are prone to gain weight. Who has the energy and willpower to avoid such things in the middle of a hectic day?
Retirement is more healthy. Meals can be planned and snacks can be packed. The high stress is replaced by more enjoyable activities. It is much easier to make good choices when the time crunch and stress are kept at a manageable level.
There are many benefits to slowing down at the W-2. One is that retirement is more healthy. It is an antidote to risky behavior, lack of sleep, and poor dietary intake. And we haven’t even begun to consider the benefits of stress reduction.
Should everyone retire? Probably not.
But for those of us who can afford it, healthy living might be one of the best arguments in favor.
It didn’t know how.
“DocG” is a physician who blogs at DiverseFI.
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