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Age-related trajectories of physical functioning in work and retirement: the role of sociodemographic factors, lifestyle and disease
  1. Sari Stenholm1,2,
  2. Hugo Westerlund3,
  3. Paula Salo4,5,
  4. Martin Hyde3,
  5. Jaana Pentti4,
  6. Jenny Head6,
  7. Mika Kivimäki4,6,
  8. Jussi Vahtera1,4,7
  1. 1Department of Public Health, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
  2. 2Department of Health, Functional Capacity and Welfare, National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Helsinki, Finland
  3. 3Stress Research Institute, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
  4. 4Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland
  5. 5Department of Psychology, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
  6. 6Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  7. 7Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sari Stenholm, Department of Public Health, University of Turku, FI-20014 Turun yliopisto, Finland; sari.stenholm{at}


Background Loss of physical functioning is an early marker of declining health in older people. The objective of this study was to examine the age-related trajectories of physical functioning among those in full-time work and retirement.

Methods Based on the Health and Retirement Study, participants who were working full-time or were in full-time retirement and 65–85 years of age during the follow-up period from 1992 to 2010 were included (n=17 844, n of observations from repeated measures in full-time work 5891 and in retirement 57 117). Details of physical functioning were asked about at all study phases and 10 items related to mobility and activities of daily living were summed to obtain a physical functioning score (0–10).

Results The number of physical functioning difficulties increased every 10 years by 0.17 (95% CI 0.04 to 0.29) when in full-time work and by 0.46 (95% CI 0.41 to 0.50) in retirement after adjusting for age, sex, race, education, total wealth, Body Mass Index, smoking, physical activity and number of diseases. Factors that were associated with a significantly greater increase in number of physical functioning difficulties in full-time work and retirement include lifestyle-related risks and chronic conditions.

Conclusions Physical functioning declines faster in retirement than in full-time work in employees aged 65 years or older and the difference is not explained by absence of chronic diseases and lifestyle-related risks.

  • Epidemiology of Ageing
  • Functioning and Disability
  • Occupational Health

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