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Increases Risk of Heart Attack

Des Moines Register, November 11, 1979, Fingertip Facts.

Retirement may increase a man's risk of dying of heart attack. "We found an 80 percent higher rate of death from coronary disease among those in a study who had retired compared with those who had not," said Dr. Charles H. Hennekens of Harvard Medical School. It may be that some people who retire get all nervous about it and kind of tense," said Hennekens. "That may be a way of explaining this, but I just don't know."

Hennekens said he and his colleagues were trying to set up a long-term study of up to 10,000 elderly persons to determine their physical and mental responses to retirement. Among the variables not included in the current data, he said, were length of retirement, changes in lifestyle and attitudes toward retirement. The last may be very important, he said, since "for some people, retirement is a reward for a lifetime's work and they look forward to it. But for other people, it is a punishment for growing old. Those who feel that way perhaps might be the ones who get nervous, but we don't have that breakdown."

Each victim was matched with another man of similar age living in the same neighborhood. Of the 568 pairs of victims and controls, 102 included one retiree and one person still at work. Of those, Hennekens said, 76 of the dead men were retirees, while only 26 of the living men had retired. After adjusting the information for age differences and other variables, he said, "there was still this 80 percent association." He said the tentative findings applied only to men in whom coronary disease is much more common than in women. By age 60, one in five American men will have had a coronary problem, while the figure for women is about one in 17.