Retirement and a healthy lifestyle: opportunity or pitfall? A narrative review of the literature

Eur J Public Health. 2014 Jun;24(3):433-9. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckt157. Epub 2013 Oct 21.


Background: Retirement is a life-course transition in late adult life that is marked by major changes that may affect healthy lifestyles. Our aim is to give an overview of the current knowledge on changes in smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity and dietary habits during the transition to retirement. This may provide clues to a better targeting and timing of preventive activities at older age.

Methods: Literature search in Medline, Scopus, Embase, PsycInfo, Social SciSearch and SciSearch limited to English-language papers published between 2001 and May 2013. Results of 20 original papers are summarized in a narrative review.

Results: Some studies report an increase in alcohol consumption after retirement, whereas others found a decrease or no change at all. Those who retired involuntarily tended to increase their alcohol consumption, whereas retirees who quit voluntarily did not change their alcohol consumption. Leisure-time physical activity seems to increase slightly after retirement, especially moderately intensive physical activity. This increase does not compensate the loss of work-related physical activity such as the work itself or work-related transportation. The studies on changes in smoking and dietary habits were too limited to draw conclusions.

Conclusions: The transition to retirement is accompanied with both favourable and unfavourable lifestyle changes, depending on the type of lifestyle, lifestyle indicator and the personal situation of the retiree. The (pre-)retirement period may well offer a suitable opportunity for preventive action, for example in pre-retirement programmes, planning or other retirement-related support.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Retirement*