Two years before his 60th birthday, my grandfather accepted a generous redundancy package.

A roofer all his life, he was persuaded by his children to enjoy an early retirement - but it wasn't long before he was looking after his grandchildren five days a week while their parents worked.

The transition from breadwinner to babysitter was too much for a man welded to tradition.

Without the structure and camaraderie of work, he seemed to go grey overnight. He lived into his eighties, but was never the same.

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Shortly after retiring, my parents' friends - a couple in their late fifties - fell ill.

She was a schoolteacher; he owned a construction company. They'd worked hard for nearly 40 years and had amassed a considerable pension.

The plan was to travel the world. They died within less than three months of each other.

Of course, not everyone who hangs up their hat early is destined to spend their golden years as an unpaid childminder (or worse). But nor are we buying the myth of retirement as a never-ending cocktail hour.

For many, the social and health benefits of staying in the labour market beyond 65 can be great.

And, like it or not, working longer is now a fact of life for millions.

Last week, the Duke of Edinburgh announced - seemingly reluctantly - that he was stepping down from royal duties after 70 years on the job.

Sir Ian McKellen found he got bored with taking 6 months off. Photo / File
Sir Ian McKellen found he got bored with taking 6 months off. Photo / File

last bow.

The prince isn't the only one unconvinced by lazy afternoons of macrame and post-golf Aperol Spritz-ing.

"Retirement from theatre would mean retirement from life," the 77-year-old recently told The Daily Telegraph.

"A few years ago, I decided to take six months off each year to see what happened - and what happened was, I got intensely bored."

While some dream of retirement, the sudden change of pace and loss of routine can lead to feelings of isolation, boredom and insecurity, especially for men, says psychologist Howard Kahn.

"The majority of women, even if they have a high-powered job, carry out most of the domestic duties. They usually take the main role in looking after any children and ageing parents, and still have these roles when they stop working.

"Consequently, they find it easier to adjust to retirement than men, whose main activity - work - has now disappeared, along with any networks they have built up to help them in their careers."

The ultimate sabbatical can also have a damaging effect on health.

Research by the Institute of Economic Affairs found that retirement increases the chance of suffering from clinical depression by around 40 per cent, and physical illness by 60 per cent.

Meanwhile, a study by Oregon State University last year suggested that people who stay on at work for an extra year until they are 66 can cut their risk of dying by 11 per cent.

Cognitive decline and 'mental retirement' seem to be confirmed by researchers at the University of Padova who in 2013 completed longitudinal analysis that controlled for age, physical health, income, education, and early life conditions and found that early retirement may also be associated with the onset of dementia.

Similarly, a study the same year by the French research agency INSERM showed that for each additional year they worked, people reduced their risk of dementia by 3.2 per cent.

Britain's Prince Phillip stood down from his royal duties last week. Photo / AP
Britain's Prince Phillip stood down from his royal duties last week. Photo / AP

Mark Kelly's* wellbeing deteriorated when he decided to wind down his television commercial production company seven years ago.

"Business was slow after the recession, so it seemed the right time to retire," says the 64-year-old Londoner.

"Part of our pension plan was an overseas property. My wife and I wanted to spend more time there, soaking up the sun and enjoying long lunches."

The reality was less romantic.

"It was hard to motivate myself to get washed and dressed in the mornings. Mentally, I wasn't challenged and spent a lot of time watching Homes Under the Hammer. In the evenings, I'd have an extra drink or two because I had nothing to get up for the next day."

When a doctor's appointment found Mark had dangerously high blood pressure, he started practising yoga and signed up for a masters degree to fill his time.

But, shortly after, he decided to make a cautious return to the workplace.

"I didn't realise how much I missed work. I have a new lease of life," he admits.

These days, Mark has a less frenetic schedule, combining intense periods of work with frequent and lengthy holidays.

"Now I feel that I'm doing something to earn my breaks, so I enjoy the downtime all the more."

This phased approach to retirement could be the answer for those who break into a cold sweat at the prospect of an empty diary, says psychologist Leo Hendry.

The 82-year-old emeritus professor, who divides his time between Folkestone and his holiday home in Andalucia, continued to work well into his seventies and is a now an unpaid part-time lecturer and writer.

"What we should be trying to do as a society is introduce a gradual process of change from work to non-work," he says.

* Some names have been changed

- The Daily Telegraph