Working Longer Does Wonders for Your Brain

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When do you want to retire? For a lot of Americans, the answer is just as soon as possible. And it’s no wonder. Only 20% of U.S. workers are passionate about their jobs. 55% don’t like what they do. It’s a means to an end. They just want to get through those working years and spend the rest of their life doing what they want to, not what some employer tells them they have to do. Early retirement is the goal.

Even if you’re able to retire early, it may not be the best thing for you. A new study by Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany concludes that working longer, to at least age 67, slows the rate of cognitive decline and protects against cognitive impairment from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The study looked at data from more than 20,000 Americans ages 55 to75 who were in the labor force between 1996 and 2014. Researchers included things like education levels; childhood family income and current wealth; health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease; depression symptoms, and whether someone’s longest-held job was professional or non-professional. The study concluded that the benefit to your brain by working longer is not limited by gender, education, or occupation.

On average, people in the study lost about one point on their cognitive scores between the ages of 61 and 67. Those who worked to 67 or beyond were one-third more likely to stay mentally sharp, and that level of mental acuity continued for at least five years beyond retirement.  This study agrees with the findings of a 2013 French study that looked at 500,000 self-employed workers in France which found a link between working longer and a reduced risk of dementia.

Researchers admit that working longer isn’t the only determining factor involved in protection against dementia or Alzheimer’s. You also have to consider genes, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and lack of exercise.

The bottom line of this study—mental stimulation and social interaction give your brain exercise. And like any other part of the body, you run the risk of losing it if you don’t use it. But mental exercise isn’t limited to working longer. It can come from taking a class, starting a new exercise routine, joining a club, or doing volunteer work; anything that keeps your mind actively engaged.

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