The Freakonomics Of Work. Office Vs. Physical Jobs Brain Health Outcomes:
One of the things we all need to maintain our health over time is Exercise.
It seems pretty straightforward at first.
So much so that in many posts here, we often cite the recent mantra, “What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.”
Even some recent work suggests there is no limit to the benefit of exercise.
But of course since things in application are always weirder than they are in theory,
We get a new piece of work suggesting that as far as you job goes, your brain health might not be as easy to look out for as your heart health…
The Short Answer:
- We keep hearing that exercise is good for your body and also your brain.
- But a Cambridge team found that people who have physical jobs do worse on cognitive tests later in life.
- 8500 subjects between the ages of 40 and 79 took tests 12 years apart.
- People who had sedentary office jobs scored in the top 10 percent of all results.
- People with physical jobs were 300% more likely to have cognitive decline later in life.
- They were also less likely to be physically active outside work.
- Anyone working a desk job scored better on these tests, regardless of iq or education.
- Other studies support these results, especially for those with interesting & mentally-challenging jobs.
- Perhaps the desk job workers get the increased-benefits because they work their minds a lot.
- This idea is substantiated by studies on children who play chess, join the school’s club, and compete in tournaments.
- The caveat to this study comes from another that shows if the stress level at your job is too high, your risk for dementia goes up instead of down.
- Something like this is echoed in a famous workplace research paper called The Whitehall Study.
- You need to be relatively content & happy at your job to avoid the pitfalls and reap the benefits.
Read on to find out the details…
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So we’re guilty as-charged.
Every time a new exercise article comes up, we keep telling you how great it is for your brain.
Whether it’s the weird idea that being too fat can actually affect your brain in negative ways,
All the way up to cardio, and running in-particular, being so great for your brain that it just might stave-off Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
And we’re still not going to discourage anyone, because the CDC is begging people to get any exercise at all as a result of so few people doing it.
But perhaps there is a balance to be struck for certain populations?
Because this recent study by Cambridge researchers points to the benefits of a very particular type of athlete.
And their conclusion was that if you want to stay sharp later in life, the type of job you should get to support that is:
A Desk Job.
So over the course of 12 years, Shabina Hayat and her team took a look at the cognitive performance of people with different kinds of jobs.
These were about 8,500 men and women between the ages of 40 and 79 years old.
What they found was that people with sedentary jobs such as office work were much less likely to risk having poor cognition later in life.
Conversely, people who had jobs that required physical labor had a higher risk of poor cognition at the same stage.
It was after the 12 year period that subjects who first filled out the lifestyle questionnaires and took the appropriate health evals, were invited back and asked to take a different battery of tests.
These tests involved:
3) Visual processing speed
4) A reading test that approximates an IQ score
And the results showed specifically:
1) People with physically sedentary jobs were in the top 10% rank for cognitive performance.
2) People with physical jobs were less likely than sedentary office workers to be active outside work.
3) People who do physical jobs were 300% more likely to have cognitive performance problems at a later age.
4) People with desk jobs performed better regardless of their level of education.
-All these results were also obtained after the researchers controlled for cognitive impairment, iq, and education.
So what the heck could be going on here?
To know for sure would probably take more targeted scientific work, but here are a few ideas.
In a previous study that looked at school activities and clubs, researchers found that not only did high-iq children tend to play chess and belong to the chess club,
But that the average IQ kids who also belonged to chess club and played in tournaments did much better in school than the average IQ kids who didn’t play.
This benefit ranged from 5% to 50% depending on the type of coursework and if the students played at tournaments or not.
In other work, neurologist Dr. David Sapolsky cites how during many grandmaster-level chess tournaments, players can burn through 6,000 calories a day,
That’s about 3x what the average person goes through.
Now this is probably down to a specific type and level of stress, that increases respiration, which then increases calorie-burning.
But because fasting is healthy for the brain and actually causes your brain to form new connections while your hunger-hormone levels are high,
Perhaps there is more going on there than just players hyperventilating.
Maybe through the intense focus and pattern-forecasting, they are just brutalizing their brains and working memory?
-Which leads us to our next guess…
Because not only has Cambridge put out the current work on desk jobs,
But a previous study by University College of London takes it a step further.
People who had desk-jobs to start off with, but also ones that were mentally-stimulating,
Had a lower risk for dementia when compared to their colleagues who had more passive, less-stimulating jobs.
And one very important point with respect to tournament chess players is this,
Every once in awhile, despite the counter-arguments, you’ll see another paper that debates the effectiveness of brain games played in leisure time to improve & preserve brainpower over the long term.
Now even though every Sudoku, Chess, & Go player in the world knows that’s hogwash,
What’s important is that just like a tournament chess player, someone with an office job that’s demanding in some ways, and also mentally-stimulating will be doing that work for long periods of time.
Not counting breaks and whatnot, that’s 8 or more hours in a day, plowing ahead on what could be some serious mental exercise.
For whatever reason, the subjects in that UCL study actually had lower levels of harmful proteins in their brain that prevent different types of brain cell growth.
Although the positive stress of an encouraging challenge is actually the good kind,
Many other types of it are terrible, as we’ve discussed before.
So if you’re going to be doing an office job hoping to reap these cognitive benefits,
Please do yourself one favor.
If you have a job where you have very low levels of control about anything and it’s unreasonably stressful,
Get out and get yourself a better one.
Because where tournament chess players, and perhaps those in mentally-challenging desk jobs may have a certain amount of latitude,
Not only the classic study on workplace stress (The Whitehall Study), but a more recent one is out.
And it suggests that you need to get out of a job that constantly stresses you in ways that are not the mild, positive-challenge type.
Because that level of stress will defeat the positive-offset against dementia that the first study discussed.
It can actually damage a part of your brain that researchers refer to as the HPA (hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal) Axis.
The main problem is excess inflammation from stress hormones like cortisol that hurt your brain and keep its cleaning-system from functioning properly.
So to wrap-up: As long as you can get the right kind of job,
Work to offset the inevitable “Office Fatigue“,
Make sure there isn’t too much of the worst kind of stress,
And still, pretty please, try to get some cardio exercise after work,
Then in a weird, freakonomics-kinda way, perhaps you too can use one type of profession you choose to stave-off the diseases of cognitive-decline like dementia and Alzheimer’s as time goes by!
• Source: Cambridge
• More Coverage: UCL-Mentally Stimulating Jobs | Wiley-Work Stress & Dementia | Chess Benefits PDF | ESPN – Burning Calories Playing Chess | U.Edinburgh Non-Digital Board Games & Cognition
• Source Study: OUP – Cross-sectional and prospective relationship between occupational and leisure-time inactivity and cognitive function in an ageing population: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition in Norfolk (EPIC-Norfolk) Study