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Why downsizing is good for your health

Mark Gale

Mark Gale

Author

Health & Wellbeing

Downsizing won’t only improve your financial health, it can seriously boost your physical and mental health, too. We asked the experts to explain.

If you’re thinking about moving to a smaller property, you’ve probably already considered the financial and practical benefits, but there’s another gain that’s often overlooked. We asked Gary Fitzgibbon, a chartered occupational psychologist who studies retirement, and Margaret Wilson, a former psychiatric nurse who’s now a professional declutterer and downsizer, to explain why downsizing can lead to better health and could even help you live longer… 

It lessens worry 

Thinking about the future in a positive way, and making changes that will lead to a happy later life, is vital for our health and wellbeing. ‘It’s important to plan for later life in the same way you might plan for any other life transition,’ says Gary Fitzgibbon. ‘Planning gives a sense of purpose and identity. If you don’t have a purpose or direction, you can start to deteriorate mentally and your life expectancy is lower.’ Planning also makes you examine your worries, such as the increasing cost of bills, and work out ways to manage them. ‘Probably the greatest health benefit downsizing can bring is the reduction in worry,’ says Margaret Wilson.

It reduces stress 

Trying to maintain a large house that may well have outgrown its purpose can cause a huge amount of stress in later life, and stress is a factor in many health problems. ‘The payoffs – and health benefits – for downsizers can be considerable,’ says Gary. ‘Downsizing relieves you of many onerous tasks, and it also allows you to free up time and financial resources so that you can structure your life in a way that is healthier.’ Margaret agrees: ‘Those who take the plunge are often pleasantly surprised. While moving does present practical and emotional challenges, the long-term consequences often far outweigh them.’

It prevents loneliness 

Downsizing to be nearer family or friends, or to a place where you have company if you want it, can have a very positive impact on health. In fact, it can add years to your life. Studies reveal that people who have a strong social network have a 29 per cent lower risk of heart disease and 32 per cent lower risk for stroke than those who don’t. Loneliness and social isolation can also cause cognitive decline, high blood pressure and obesity. In fact, evidence suggests it could be a bigger health risk than smoking. ‘We are social animals and we need social activity – without it, we become quite depressed,’ says Gary.  

It makes life easier 

A new and more practical living environment means more time for you. For example, a better designed kitchen might make you more likely to cook a nutritious meal, and since you’ll be less stressed, you could find you have a better appetite, too. McCarthy & Stone developments have thoughtful design touches such as raised-height ovens and plug sockets. And their locations are carefully chosen to be near town centres and transport links, so it’s easier for you to get out and about, which could improve your fitness and stamina. 

It makes the future look bright 

Once they’ve made the big move, many downsizers feel a sense of rejuvenation, say researchers at the Intergenerational Foundation in their report, Understanding Downsizing. Living somewhere new and starting again brings ‘emotional liberation’, according to the report’s findings. Even buying new furniture or choosing new décor can foster a sense of optimism and motivation. ‘It’s important to see later life not as an ending but as the start of a new journey,’ says Gary. ‘And downsizing can play a positive part.’

It helps you live in the present 

Studies have shown that clutter has a profound effect on mood and self-esteem. Sorting through possessions and getting rid of ‘stuff’ can bring unexpected mental health benefits. ‘Many people feel stuck or weighed down by the volume of personal and family possessions,’ says Margaret. ‘Going through a lifetime’s worth of possessions is challenging, but learning to live with less can be enormously freeing. I’ve had people comment that they feel lighter.’ And if you feel better, you’ll be more inclined to take better care of yourself. Holding on to possessions keeps you stuck in the past. ‘Too much nostalgia can be socially isolating,’ says Gary. ‘If you’re surrounded by memories – even pleasant ones – nostalgia becomes a way of life. ‘Thinking a lot about the past cuts you off from the present.’ 

Did you know? 

The larger your home and the more time you spend maintaining and cleaning it, the more financial and personal stress you experience.

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