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A study by the University of Turku has revealed that changes in physical activity around the time of retirement significantly impact weight and blood cholesterol levels. The Finnish Retirement and Aging (FIREA) study utilized wearable motion sensors to track physical activity changes as workers transitioned from employment to retirement and examined the health effects of these changes.

The research found that a majority of retirees experienced a decrease in physical activity, replaced by more sleep and sedentary behavior.

This shift was associated with weight gain, an increase in waist circumference, and worsening blood fat values. Conversely, retirees who increased their light or vigorous physical activity and reduced sleep and sedentary time saw positive changes in their blood fat values, weight, and waist circumference.

"The beneficial changes brought about by increasing physical activity were modest, but the reduction in physical activity, especially more vigorous activity, led to relatively large adverse changes in weight, waist circumference, and blood fat values," said Dr. Kristin Suorsa, the lead author of the study.

Encouraging Movement in Retirement

The study highlights the reduction in physical activity that retirement brings, as work-related and commuting physical activities cease. "Our findings support current recommendations for physical activity and encourage retirees to incorporate more movement into their days. Even light activities, such as errands and outdoor walks, are beneficial, but greater health benefits are achieved with brisk and strenuous physical activity," says Suorsa.

The research team has compiled tips for a more active retirement on the FIREA study's website.

The FIREA study, initiated in 2013 at the University of Turku, aims to explore changes in lifestyle, health, and functional ability during the transition to retirement and the factors influencing these changes. The study is led by Professor Sari Stenholm, specializing in public health science and epidemiology.

The results are based on a sample of 212 municipal workers who wore a thigh-mounted motion sensor day and night for a week and participated in clinical measurements before and after retirement during the same season each year. The motion sensor, which measures acceleration, allows for the assessment of sleep, sedentary behavior, and physical activity throughout the day. The FIREA study is funded by the Academy of Finland, the Ministry of Education and Culture, and the Juho Vainio Foundation.

The findings have been published in the International Journal of Obesity and Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journals.

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