Staying active in retirement

George Kerr. Picture: PA/Andrew Milligan
George Kerr. Picture: PA/Andrew Milligan
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GET up, drag yourself to work, complain about it to your colleagues, come home and do it all again the next day.

The plan is that eventually – before you’re too old and fragile to enjoy it – you’ll retire to a place where every day is sunny, there’s no-one to tell you what to do and you can take as long a lunch break as you fancy.

Sir Alex Ferguson. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Sir Alex Ferguson. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Retirement probably sounds like bliss to most workers. But for some – like Sir Alex Ferguson – it couldn’t come slowly enough.

And for others, rather than spelling the beginning of a happy new chapter, retirement comes hand in hand with depression, health niggles, loneliness and, of all things, a craving to get back to work.

Sir Alex’s decision to finally step down as boss of Manchester United at the age of 71 brings the curtain down on his time as the most successful club manager in history. Perhaps conscious of how his own father retired from the Clydebank shipyards only to fall ill within a week and pass away a year later, the football legend has already made plans to keep busy. Rather than shuffle off to the potting shed for good, he’ll remain a backroom fixture at Old Trafford in a new role as director and ambassador for the club.

“The big fear is what you would do with yourself,” he once said of retirement. “There are too many examples of people who retire and are in their box soon after. You’re taking away the very thing that makes you alive, that keeps you alive.”

For some the idea that there is no blue sky retirement to look forward to could be a devastating blow. But is it possible that Fergie is right? Could retirement be bad for our health?

According to one recent study in the US, people who suddenly retire are at greater risk of heart attacks, cancer and other conditions. Researchers found those who continue to work part-time experienced fewer major diseases than those who simply quit.

Dr Maria Gascon, counselling psychologist
for Edinburgh based First Psychologist Scotland, warns retirement is a major life changing event that requires careful planning. “A lot of people underestimate the significance of retirement. People have all these dreams and plans about how wonderful it will be.

“But there are losses that come with retirement – loss of having a purpose and structure to your day, having a role, professional identity, loss of status and the possibility of a reduction in income.

“It’s important to maintain a sense of purpose and to perform meaningful tasks. It doesn’t have to be a job, it could be developing hobbies and interests, but it’s important to have the feeling of being useful.”

At 76, George Kerr is five years older than Sir Alex but has no plans to hang up his 10th Dan status just yet. He’s president of the British Judo Association and aims to keep going for at least another four years. “We have this culture in Scotland that you hit 65 and everything stops,” says George, who lives in Leith. “People say they can’t wait to retire and then sit around doing nothing. I can’t think of anything worse. The trouble is so many people don’t look after themselves properly and get to retirement and physically give up. You’ve got to keep moving.”

Livingston grandmother-of-three Mary Malcolm, 77, says her part-time job at her local B&Q keeps her fit and mentally stimulated at an age when many are content to sit quietly by the fire watching television all day. “If you don’t keep on working, you’re liable to just vegetate,” she explains. “If you are working, you are mentally stimulated. It keeps you fit because you’re moving about.”

She retired at 60, having worked for years as a school auxiliary, but found it too boring. “It was the monotony of it,” she explains. “I thought I had to try to do something. I’m not one for joining clubs or anything, so work has been a good thing for me.”

Greg McCracken of Age Scotland agrees retirement requires careful planning: “Whilst people are having to work longer, retiring in good health is increasingly the norm. This means there is so much more that older people can still look forward to when they are no longer working and we should be celebrating what they have to contribute.

“Unlike recent celebrity retirees, however, most people won’t have millions in their pension pot. We’d encourage everyone to plan ahead and ensure they receive all the support to which they’re entitled.”

Of course retirement doesn’t have to be forever. Grahame Wear’s retirement lasted just three weeks before he realised he needed to get back to work. “I was general manager of The Odeon for 33 years, seven days a week and retired at 54 with all these plans, but I was bored silly. Retirement was absolutely mind-numbing,” he recalls.

He found a job working in the chief executive’s office at the Scottish Parliament and retired for the second time two years ago. Now 67, he’s a trustee for charitable organisation art’s complex in London Road and is Chair of the Scottish Parliament’s Retiree Association. Quitting completely, he says, is not on the cards: “When I stopped work at 54 I was thinking about my health and my quality of life, but not working was worse.

“It’s better to keep going, doing something, than finding yourself sitting all day watching television.”

Workaholics don’t want to quit

RETIREMENT might sound like bliss for some, but for others, it spells misery.

Sir Tom Farmer retired aged 29 after selling his tyre business in 1969. He moved to America but got bored and quickly returned to launch Kwik-Fit.

Football star Paul Gascoigne admits that retirement merely added to his personal problems. He recently confirmed that boredom was the key factor in his return to heavy drinking.

Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has been at the top of his game for decades and says he’ll never retire: “Work is making a living out of being bored,” he says.

Merchant banker Sir Angus Grossart founded Noble Grossart in 1969. Now 76 years old he shows no sign of quitting his role as chairman of the Edinburgh-based bank, saying he would prefer “to die of exhaustion, not of boredom”.