The importance of having purpose in retirement

Detail of elderly hands kneading dough while making homemade pasta.

Image: sidarta/

‘I’ve got to have something to do,’ said Leo Kellner to a reporter. The comment caught my attention mainly because Kellner is 98 years of age and is still working as a baker.

He doesn’t get paid. He gives away what he bakes—to friends, to hospice volunteers and others in need of food and kindness, reports Next Avenue.

Leo’s story

Leo started baking when he was 92. That’s the year his wife Madelon died. It’s also when he retired from his job with an irrigation company.

Wondering what he could do after both those losses, he decided, ‘I can bake.’ And in that first year, he baked 144 apple pies. He had found his purpose.

But there’s more to the story. He remembers growing up poor when his parents struggled to put food on the table. Now he’s trying to help people in need. Then there’s this: he reckons, ‘I’d be dead if I didn’t do this.’

There’s a secret ingredient in his pies. ‘I make it with love, that’s my secret ingredient.’ And he’s currently sharing the secret, teaching a 12-year-old to cook. She calls him her ‘other grandfather’.

Three advantages of living with purpose

There have been several studies on having a purpose and ageing. All of them have found positive benefits. Here are three findings:

1. Those who live with purpose live longer

What has been noticed is that people with purpose are healthier and this translates into longer life. One report, using carefully-framed academic speak says, ‘having a purpose in life appears to widely buffer against mortality risk across the adult years.’ In normal speak, they live longer.

2. Those who live with purpose are more health aware

This is somewhat related to point 1 because those who live with purpose are more likely to have knowledge of and take advantages of health care services. The report also noted that they had fewer days in hospital.

3. Those who live with purpose are less affected by Alzheimer’s

Using the report’s words: ‘Higher levels of purpose in life reduce the deleterious effects of Alzheimer’s Disease pathologic changes on cognition in advanced age.’

However you look at it, there are huge advantages in having purpose as we age. As we prepare for and live in retirement there needs to be something that gets us out of bed in the morning.

I don’t believe Leo ever sat down to assess the advantages of living his life with purpose. For him, it came naturally. His motivation comes from elsewhere: ‘I’m happy when I can help somebody and put a smile on their face.’

What’s your motivation?

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of


Category: Ageing, Brain Health, Purpose

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