Are you in your 40s and you wonder why can’t focus and remember facts anymore? A recent study conducted by experts at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research might have the answer for that.
Researchers discovered that the cognitive performance activity of middle-aged people improved as the working week increased up to 25 hours a week. On the other hand, any additional overload caused their performance to decline, due to the effects of fatigue and stress.
In fact, it was concluded that those who worked 55 hours a week had a greater cognitive decline than those who were unemployed or retired.
The study involved 3500 women and 3000 men whose work performance was analyzed through a series of cognitive tests. The participants’ ability to read words aloud, match letters and numbers in speed trials and recite lists of numbers were tested. According to one of the three authors of the test, Professor Colin McKenzie of the University of Melbourne, both ‘knowing’ and ‘thinking’ were significant indicators. Reading tests measured participants’ “knowing” part of ability while “thinking” included memory, executive reasoning, and abstract reasoning.
The professor also mentioned that countries nowadays want to raise the retirement age and force people to work longer as they will be unable to receive pension benefits until later age. Therefore, more people will continue working in the later stages of their life.
Even though intellectual stimulation by playing brain puzzles (Sudoku), crosswords is beneficial to retain your cognitive function later in age, overstimulation might have the opposite effect.
The degree of intellectual stimulation depends on the working hours. It goes without saying that work stimulates brain activity, but at the same time working too long can cause fatigue and stress, which can possibly damage cognitive functions.
Professor McKenzie believes that working part-time could be crucial in preserving brain function at middle and older age. However, does this mean people who can afford it should reduce their working hours? And does it depend on the type of work you do?
Most people would assume a less stressful and enjoyable job would cause less damage to their stress and fatigue levels. Nevertheless, the test does not take into consideration the type of work, which means there’s still more research to be conducted.
Professor McKenzie argues, “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.” There’s no doubt that professions involving long stressful hours in demanding areas will damage people’s health.
Since the majority of us have no choice but to continue working after age 40, it’s very important to take care our health, go on vacations and take some rest. As McKenzie notes, “Full-time work (40 hours a week) is still better than no work in terms of maintaining cognitive functioning, but it is not maximising the positive effects of work.”
The bottom line is working full-time is highly detrimental for those aged over 40, especially since governments in some countries are planning to introduce full-time work until the age of 67.