Are you over 40 and feeling like your attention span is waning? Your work could be to blame…
The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research underwent research. They found that, working up to 30 hours a week is good for cognitive function in people over 40. However, any more than that causes performance to deteriorate
The study looks at 3500 women and 3000 men over 40. It made them complete cognitive function tests whilst their performance at work was monitored. Their ability to read words aloud, recite lists of numbers and match letters and numbers in speed trials was monitored throughout the test, known as the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey (Hilda). The author of the test, Professor Colin McKenzie, said that both ‘thinking’ and ‘knowing’ were important indicators. Reading tests is the ‘knowing’ part of ability, whilst ‘thinking’ captures memory, abstract and executive reasoning. In fact, those who work 55 hours a week or more show worse cognitive impairment than those who are retired or unemployed and don’t work at all.
Should people over 40 have a lesser working week?
Professor McKenzie told The Times that many countries are aiming to raise the retirement age. This forces people to work for longer as they are unable to claim benefits until later. He believes that the degree of work may have an important bearing on this. Whilst some intellectual stimulation is thought to be good to retain cognitive function in later life, with brain puzzles such as Sudoku and crosswords credited with sustaining brainpower in older people. Excessive stimulation works the other way. The degree of intellectual stimulation may depend on working hours. Work can be a double-edged sword, in that it stimulates brain activity, but at the same time working long hours cause fatigue and stress. Which can potentially damage cognitive functions.
Professor McKenzie believes part time work may be beneficial in retaining brain function in middle aged and older people. Should those over 40 who can afford to do so reduce their hours, then? And is the type of work you do a factor? If you do a job you love will it also reduce brain function?
Does the type of work factor in?
Professor McKenzie reasons, “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.”
High stress factor jobs with long hours in competitive, demanding fields play havoc with a person’s health in general. As most people go on working over 40, or even return to work after a break to have a family or for other personal reasons. Taking care of your health, maximising your down time and taking restful holidays becomes more important.
Professor McKenzie says 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 maximising the potential effects of work.”
It’s clear that a balance is needed when working over 40. However, do you think that those over 40 should be given reduced working hours? We’d love to hear what you think…