If you are at age 40+ and starting to think you’re no longer fully able to focus and remember facts, you could point the finger at your work as the contributing factor.
A recent research study conducted by experts at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research produced interesting findings. Namely, while working up to 30 hours per week is good for the cognitive function in the fourth decade of life, any additional overload causes one’s performance to decline.
Actually, people who worked 55 hours a week or more had the greatest cognitive decline than those who were without a job, retired or didn’t work at all.
The research included 3500 female and 3000 male subjects at age 40+. While the subjects did cognitive function tests their work performance was being monitored.
The test known as Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, measured how able they were to read words aloud, match letters and numbers in speed trials and recite lists of numbers. The author of this test, Professor Colin McKenzie of the University of Melbourne, states that both ‘knowing’ and ‘thinking’ were significant indicators. Reading tests is the ‘knowing’ element of ability, whilst ‘thinking’ comprises memory, executive, and abstract reasoning.
While certain degree of intellectual stimulation is believed to benefit the retaining of cognitive function in later age, with brain puzzles such as crosswords and Sudoku who preserve brain capacity in older persons, excessive stimulation has the opposite effect.
Professor McKenzie said for the British newspaper The Times that many countries are aiming to raise the retirement age, forcing people to work longer as they will be unable to claim benefits until later age. His opinion is that the amount of work may have significant important relevance on this.
The degree of intellectual stimulation may depend on working hours. Work can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can trigger brain activity, but at the same time working too long can lead to fatigue and stress, which potentially damages cognitive functions.
McKenzie believes that part-time work may benefit in preserving brain function at middle and older age. So the question arises, should people who can afford it reduce their working hours? And does the type of work represent a factor?
A person would think that a less stressful job they enjoy would cause less damage on their stress and fatigue levels. However, the Hilda test does not analyze how the type of work affects the results, so this is something to consider.
Professor McKenzie discusses, “It’s very difficult to identify the causal effects of the type of work on cognitive functions. People may be selected into certain occupations according to their cognitive abilities.” Certainly, professions that involve working long under stress, in competitive, demanding areas will generally damage one’s health.
As most of us are forced to continue working after age 40, taking care of your health, spending restful vacations, and extending your down time becomes essential. Professor McKenzie suggests that, “Working full time – over 40 hours a week – is still better than no work in terms of maintaining cognitive function, but it is not maximizing the potential effects of work.”
Apparently, balance is necessary, especially as governments in some countries have plans to introduce full-time work requirements until the age of 67.
What is your opinion on this important issue? Do you feel that reduction in hours would benefit people’s cognitive performance?