New research suggests a challenging work environment does more than keep you engaged or stress you out from day to day—it may have a protective effect on your brain as it ages.
A German study published in the journal Neurology tested the memory and thinking skills of 1,054 people over the age of 75 and followed them every 18 months for eight years.
Results showed those whose work history required more speaking, strategy development, conflict resolution and managerial tasks had better protection against memory and thinking decline as they aged.
Work tasks over the course of a career were more strongly linked to later brain function than education (which is known to affect risk of dementia).
In the study, work tasks were separated into executive, verbal and fluid.
Those whose careers involved high levels of all three fared the best in terms of thinking and memory function over time.
A theory about why this kind of work is protective likens challenging work tasks to a form of training for the brain.
Similar to athletes conditioning their bodies for specific sports accomplishments and building muscle reserve, challenging the brain can build up a long term mental reserve that is helpful as we age.
Although challenging the brain seems to be healthy, it should still be noted that a stressful work environment may not be good for mental health.
We also have a lot of data on the harmful effects of prolonged elevated stress to mental and physical health.
It is likely important to strike a balance between finding work that is stimulating and mentally challenging without it also being overly demanding or stressful.
Of course, not everyone is able to find work that is mentally challenging, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible to find ways to train the brain and challenge it using some of the same principles outside of a work environment.
Executive, verbal and fluid tasks are often integral to household management, community involvement, advocacy and volunteer work as well and all of these activities present opportunities for giving your brain a workout to build up that mental reserve.
At Okanagan Clinical Trials, we currently have an ongoing research study in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
If you are 65 or older and experiencing Alzheimer’s, you may be eligible to participate.
Contact us for more information.