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12/23/2013 12:20 pm ET

What's The Best Way To 'Test Drive' A Retirement Before You Leave The Office?

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Retirement can be one of the most significant and challenging life changes. What is initially gained in terms of leisure time and reduced stress can be offset by the loss of daily routines, socialization and purpose. Several studies, including the ongoing U.S. Health and Retirement Study, suggest that there is the potential for worsening physical and mental health after retirement, especially when it is involuntary. A recent study by the Institute of Economic Affairs in Great Britain sounded an even greater warning, finding that retirement is associated with a significantly increased probability of depression and declines in self-assessed health. These data suggest the need to prepare assiduously for retirement as one might prepare for a major journey.

So what's involved in this preparation? First of all, take stock of several factors that can buffer the losses and stresses of retirement, including a strong marriage or partnership, social supports, physical exercise, faith-based pursuits, and part-time activities. Make certain you bolster these factors in your own life before making a major change. Second, define what retirement will actually mean. For some individuals, it is truly an end to employment and a time to live off of one's savings, if this is an economically viable plan. Other individuals might want to work part-time for income or as volunteers, and there are plenty of opportunities. Still others want to pursue new careers or hobbies, in essence reinventing themselves and drawing upon age-conferred strengths of wisdom and creativity to do something completely new.

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