Tough Job? You May Reap Brain-Health Rewards Later

frustrationEver feel like you’ve worked so hard that your brain needs a break at the end of the day? Or that you’ve negotiated your way through so many political minefields that you feel you should get a peace prize? Although it may seem as if your workplace is frying your brain, it turns out the mental demands of work help protect your memory and thinking skills later in life, at least according to one new study published in the journal Neurology.

Workers whose jobs are mentally taxing appear to have better protection against old age than do coworkers who perhaps aren’t ready to beat their heads against the wall at the end of a hard day. In fact, your career may be even more important than your education level for protecting brain health, notes lead author Francisca Then of the University of Leipzig, Germany.

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“Challenges at work may indeed be a positive element, if they build up a person’s mental reserve in the long term,” says Then.

For the study, 1,000 Germans over age 75 were given memory and thinking tests every 18 months for eight years. The researchers rated work history by how often participants had to schedule activities, resolve conflict, develop strategies and perform other complicated tasks. They found that those who had the highest levels of these tasks during their career had half the rate of mental decline compared to those with low levels of mentally demanding tasks.

The authors said that a decrease in executive function — the ability to organize thoughts — is often one of the first signs of age-related cognitive decline. Demanding jobs that require scheduling work and activities, evaluating information and analyzing data require intensive daily use of executive function and could delay cognitive aging. In addition, just as lifting weights builds muscle, being confronted each day with a challenging set of tasks may strengthen neural processes that then build up mental reserve in old age.

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So the next time you’re ready to take your job and shove it, just remember that all those challenging work tasks may keep your brain healthy so you can actually enjoy your well-deserved retirement.

Photo: starfotograf/iStock

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