Jobs that keep your brain sharp: Stimulating careers linked to better memory in old age

OSLO, Norway — We’ve all heard the phrase “use it or lose it” when it comes to keeping our minds sharp as we age. But did you know your career choice could play a big role in how well your brain ages over time? According to new research out of Norway, having a mentally stimulating job during your working years may help preserve your memory and thinking skills well into your golden years. So, in addition to helping pay the bills, that mentally engaging career could be giving your brain a workout, too!

The study, published in the journal Neurology, looked at over 7,000 Norwegians across 305 different occupations. The researchers categorized the cognitive demands of each job into four main types:

  • Routine manual tasks (like factory work)
  • Routine cognitive tasks (bookkeeping, filing)
  • Non-routine analytical work (computer programming, data analysis)
  • Non-routine interpersonal roles (coaching, PR, managing teams)

Then, they tracked whether the participants developed mild cognitive impairment after age 70. MCI involves noticeable declines in memory and thinking abilities beyond normal aging. For example, MCI can take the form of frequently misplacing things or struggling to follow conversations. While it’s not as severe as dementia, it can make everyday mental tasks quite challenging.

Here’s where it gets exciting for workers: the researchers found a striking difference in MCI rates between those with the most and least cognitively stimulating careers. A whopping 42 percent of those in the least stimulating jobs (mail carriers, custodians) developed MCI after 70. For those in the most mentally engaging fields (like teaching), however, that number dropped to just 27 percent.

Even after accounting for factors like education and lifestyle, those least stimulated at work were 66 percent more likely to experience MCI in later life compared to their more mentally challenged peers. Talk about motivation to find a career you love that also gives your noggin a workout!

Group of men and women sit in a work meeting
A cognitively stimulating job during your working years may play a crucial role in preserving your memory and thinking skills well into your golden years. (Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels)

So, what makes a job cognitively stimulating?

According to the researchers, roles that require analyzing information, creative thinking, interpreting data, building relationships, motivating teams, and continuously learning new skills seem to give our brains the exercise they need to stay in tip-top shape long-term.

The takeaway? Whether you’re a young professional mapping out your career path, a seasoned worker eyeing a career pivot, or a retiree looking for an enriching hobby, make sure to gravitate towards activities and projects that challenge your mental muscles. Your future self’s brain health may just depend on it.

“These results indicate that both education and doing work that challenges your brain during your career play a crucial role in lowering the risk of cognitive impairment later in life,” lead study author Dr. Trine Holt Edwin notes in a statement.

So, when it comes to keeping your mind sharp for the long haul, the old saying rings true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Your dream job could be the brain insurance policy you never knew you needed!

Article reviewed by StudyFinds Editor Chris Melore.

Comments

  1. HEALTHCARE !!! You are collecting data, analyzing, comparing, determining a DIAGNOSIS AND DANGERS , all is high level.MANY symptoms can be alike BUT in a list of 10 similarities , there is ONE that defines the diagnosis. AND, U R asked to see a patient every 15 minutes !!! Ranges, communication with different nationalities every day ! ALSO, different nationalities have different responses to treatments, food sources, vitamin lacks, etc . Motivating and leading peers and patients in positive actions as well as ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS . CREATING schedules , convincing others to do what u advise. Having knowledge of changes in diseases, new treatments , etc. this is literally with every patient. 53 yrs. Family Nurse Practitioner

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