7 Misconceptions About Retired Life

Many seniors are not enjoying retirement as much as they thought they would.

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Many people are postponing their current wants to save for retirement. And perhaps retirement will bring little stress and plenty of time for hobbies and travel. But some retirees say they are not enjoying retirement as much as they thought they would.

A quarter of retirees think life in retirement is worse than it was before they retired, according to a recent poll of 1,254 individuals age 50 and older by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health. And 44 percent of retirees think their overall quality of life is about the same as it was while they were working. Only 29 percent of retirees say leaving the workforce made their life better. With that in mind, here are seven misconceptions about life in retirement.

[See 10 Places to Reinvent Your Life in Retirement.]

You will have less stress. More than half (55 percent) of workers age 50 and older expect retirement to be less stressful than it was when they were working. But only 39 percent of retirees report having less stress in their lives than they did when employed full-time. "There are some false expectations about what life in retirement is going to be like," says Gillian SteelFisher, a research scientist and the assistant director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program. "The stress may be related to a decline in health or finances." More than a third (35 percent) of retirees say their stress level is about the same, and almost a quarter (24 percent) say they now face more stress than they did while employed.

Travel and hobbies will fill your days. Exploring new places is a common retirement goal, with 59 percent of older workers expecting to do more of that in retirement. But 34 percent of retirees say they currently travel to places they want to go less than they did in the past, and 35 percent fit in vacations about as often as they did while employed. "There is a common expectation that this will be a time to get out and do all the things you want to do, and then we find out, in reality, not only are they not taking these exotic cruises, but they are spending less time traveling in retirement than they did in the five years before," says SteelFisher. "There may be health issues that may be making travel more difficult than they might have anticipated, and it may be that the cruise was a little bit more expensive than they anticipated." And while 68 percent of people over age 50 who are not yet retired expect to have more time for sports, hobbies, and volunteering, many retirees say they have the same amount (43 percent) or less (20 percent) time for activities they like.

You will take better care of yourself. Almost half (48 percent) of older workers say they will exercise more in retirement than they do now. But just because you have more time to exercise doesn't mean that you will. Some 34 percent of retirees say they get less exercise than they did while employed, and 41 percent get about the same amount. You probably won't start eating healthier in retirement either, even if you have plenty of time to cook. Most people's eating habits stayed the same in retirement (52 percent) and 12 percent of retirees say they now eat less healthfully than they did while in the workforce.

[See 9 Secrets of Retirement Happiness.]

Your health will hold up. "People envision that retirement will be a chance to do a lot of things that they haven't done before and they haven't really thought about the health issues they will run into as they age," says Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. Most older workers (69 percent) expect to maintain their current level of health in retirement. But only 43 percent of retirees say their health is now similar to what it was five years prior to retirement. Some 39 percent of retirees say their health is now worse than it was before retirement. "As retirees start to need long-term care for themselves or their spouses, they experience stress because of the concern about what options are going to be open to them," says Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "The retirees who are experiencing more health issues than they anticipated or having difficulty paying for things like long-term care are feeling like retirement is not like they thought it would be."