Retirement and revision

27 May 2013

Apologies for the long wait since my last article – it has been a long time of revising for my forthcoming exams but I thought I would write about a big issue which is now proving to be more a health issue than a health benefit. But what could this issue be? Eating Chocolate? Eating Tomatoes? Supporting a Football Team (Very stressful indeed!)? No, it is in fact the link that joins Sir Alex Ferguson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen – retirement. Retirement is usually the years after your years of work and service when you can do what you want to do like skydive, knit, cook, learn martial arts or watch more football games. But now, reports have shown that retirement can in fact be detrimental for your health. Why is this?


Well let’s use some empathy, imagine you at work or school – your life revolves around that – you have a mission which you need to serve (this can be revising for GCSEs or doing work) and because of that, you are in a frame of mind that is very focused, you have a kind of adrenaline which goes with the job. But when that suddenly comes to an end, that mission/that purpose is gone and you have nothing to focus on, that is where the health detriment comes in. Think about a teacher or a student at high school, you spend a term or half term meeting deadlines, doing work, marking work, organising events, doing lots of homework for lessons etc. and you almost have that kind of adrenaline and that attitude that prevents you from getting ill during term time because of the importance of it. But in the holidays, some people get ill by catching the flu because they temporary don’t have that purpose, so their immune systems ‘open up’ if you like and you get ill. This is the short term, but what about the long term?

Well, studies have recently found that people who retire don’t have a specific purpose in their days like they did when working. As a result, they fill their time in other ways. The stereotypical ways are playing bowls, playing bingo etc. but of course these aren’t for everyone. For some, they start to live slightly unhealthier lives. They can become unhealthy by not doing as much exercise (perhaps in some jobs, exercise was a built-in part of it), perhaps, eating more because they have more time and spend more time watching television as opposed to going out etc. As a result of this being experienced by many, some people are actually going back to work after retirement because a) they are able to have some more money coming in as opposed to just pension and savings and b) it can help purpose, fulfilment, mind-frame and even health. Also, it has been proven that retirement can provide a short term boost but then a long term decline, with it being predicted that you are 40% more likely to become clinically depressed in retirement and 60% more likely to suffer from a physical condition. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone – some people enjoy long and happy retirements, late Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher spent much of their time being retired enjoying art, writing books and campaigning for organisations like Chelsea Pensioners.

It does feel weird that after many years of the retirement age going up and up and up (and the complaints with it), that now retirement is being looked at more negatively, with some people deciding to pretty much abandon retirement altogether. But what could the long term effect of no retirements in the future be? Well for a start, unemployment could get worse as jobs are being occupied by the elderly and unemployed aren’t getting a chance to work. And also, you may see more deaths at work due to elderly staying on at work and dying due to stress, workload etc. One thing is for sure on retirement, I don’t see Sir Alex going back to his old job (especially as the vacancy has now been filled) but if he is feeling a little unmotivated and wants to work, they may be looking for some shelf stackers at his local supermarket.

From one R, to another- Revision. Revision is thing which is prominent for lots of young people at the moment, with examinations taking place for GCSEs and A-levels. Revision is the way for people (not just young) to revise what they have learnt in preparation for an activity. This activity can be exams but also can be something as simple (or difficult) as revising a speech or lecture on a topic. People are very different learners – it is one of the great academic factors in people that people learn best differently. Some learn best by reading over and over, some learn best by audio, some learn best by using visual devices like pictures/ diagrams etc. But which are the ones that science (a subject I am revising for at the moment believe it or not) has said are the best?

Well, the processes of practice testing (self-testing to check knowledge - especially using flash cards) and distributed practice (spreading out study over time) fared the best, with these getting a rating of HIGH by US physiologists. These help the learner to be firmly in control of their revision but also add clarity to elements they are unsure of. Elaborative interrogation (being able to explain a point or fact), self-explanation (how a problem was solved) and interleaved practice (switching between different kinds of problems) all were rated MODERATE because they give the learner chances to practice revising, so, for example, a technique which I use and was favoured here is explaining an idea like say how medicine developed through the Italian Renaissance. When you give your answers like the printing press helped spread ideas and old ideas were brought back to Europe and challenged to develop progress, you can explain them a bit more and that gives you practice for answering a question in the exam on that topic.  

The big surprises in the tests were, however, the revelation that many of the most popular revision techniques have been shown to not always be 100% effective. Summarising, highlighting/underlining, keyword mnemonics, imagery and re-reading all received ratings of LOW, but that doesn’t necessarily mean these don’t work – remember people learn in different ways. 

The study has made some interesting revelations but it is certainly interesting to see if these ‘tried and tested’ methods of revising hold some weight, indeed they all do in their own way. Revising is the process of learning content for a specific activity. If you are revising for an exam, then you need it because it adds to a qualification but as long as you know the knowledge for that exam, then you it has served its purpose. Quite a lot of things are important for later life, but some things, like learning about production of yoghurt in biology, isn’t. It is therefore about looking for a revision technique to learn the content even though it doesn’t need to stick after the exam. Anyway, talking about revision, I’m going to get back to mine! Hopefully some of the strategies I have discussed will work.

Backbench Minister for Health

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