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Research shows Canadians past retirement age are increasingly choosing a mix of leisure activities and paid work, compared to the more predictable hard stop of past generations.KATLEHO SEISA/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Cherie Catena returned to work after retiring once – and she’d like to do it again.

The 67-year-old worked at Xerox from 1974 to 2013, when she was laid off with a severance package in her late 50s.

“I wasn’t planning on retiring,” says the St. Catharines, Ont. resident. “I got up in the morning and sat in my condo and thought, ‘Oh my god, what do I do?’”

After a stint working in retail, she got a job with a Xerox dealer and worked another eight years before being told, once again, that it was time to retire.

That was last year, and after a winter without work, Ms. Catena is itching to get back in the game. She says she was always so focused on her work that she didn’t get into many extracurricular activities, and now she doesn’t know where to start.

“I thought of volunteering or taking up golf. But there is a fulfilment when you get dressed up in the morning and you go out to work,” says Ms. Catena, whose father worked in the finance department at the City of Niagara Falls until he was 80 years old.

“People tell me, ‘You’re getting older, you have to enjoy your life, blah blah blah,’” she says. “I have worked my whole life and that’s what I thrive on.”

Research shows Canadians past retirement age are increasingly choosing a mix of leisure activities and paid work, compared to the more predictable hard stop of past generations. While some keep working because they need money, others decide to stay in the work force for other reasons; they like the stimulation and social life that comes with having a job.

“You get to see people. It uplifts your mood,” Ms. Catena says.

There may also be health benefits to working past age 65. Some studies show people who keep working as they get older have much lower rates of chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease and dementia. However, the research is mixed: Other studies have found few tangible health benefits of continuing to work, while showing that retiring reduces stress and other mental health disorders.

A Simon Fraser University study published late last year found that older adults who get regular, moderate exercise and participate in frequent arts activities are in better cognitive health, suggesting those activities are slowing cognitive decline. Those findings could apply to people who continue to work after 65 as long as they’re doing jobs that involve moving around or challenging tasks, says Sylvain Moreno, a computational neuroscience professor and leader of the study.

“That’s kind of the positive message of this scientific discovery: we can prevent the loss of our brain and skills, and we can do this with very little activity,” says Dr. Moreno, who’s based in Vancouver. “There is this urban legend that when you’re a senior, this is it. You don’t have any hope; you can’t train and get better – the idea that it’s a slow decay and there’s nothing you can get back.

“All those activities you do in your senior years have more impact than your genetics on your brain health.”

Dr. Moreno says older adults who want to work could help solve some of the skills shortages in the labour market but notes some companies can be prejudiced against older workers, and others simply haven’t considered ways to attract and retain people from this segment.

“We have this great moment where people want to go back to work [and] a need in the economy with not enough people to fill those jobs,” he says. “Most of the [older adult] population is healthy and has a lot of capacity.”

The federal and provincial governments are trying to get more companies to hire older workers. The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors Forum’s “Age-friendly workplaces” report – which provides recruitment and retention strategies aimed at this demographic – says older workers tend to stay in jobs longer, resulting in less turnover; often have deep knowledge and experience; and “tend to have a strong work ethic, work well in team settings and require minimal supervision.

“Research also shows that older workers have a strong desire to remain relevant through continuous learning and making use of their abilities, even as they approach retirement,” the report states. “Many older workers want to leave an organization knowing they have made a difference.”

For Bob Woodall, 73, continuing to work gives him a sense of accomplishment, helps him stay healthy and keeps him in touch with his family and friends, who make up the bulk of his clients these days. A licensed plumber and experienced renovator, he went from working 90 hours a week to about 30 a week when he was 65. He now takes on about one project a month, often something like a bathroom renovation.

“I know I am good at what I do, and I enjoy it,” says Mr. Woodall, who lives in Mississauga, Ont. “It gives me a dopamine rush or something like that when I complete it. In the middle, I can get frustrated because … I certainly have slowed down.

“But I like fixing stuff, I like being successful, and I like helping people,” he adds.” And I need something to do during the day.”

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