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Mentally stimulating jobs could be the secret to keeping your mind sharp long after retirement

Researchers have discovered that mentally challenging jobs may keep your mind sharp long after retirement.

“Based on data spanning 18 years, our study suggests that certain kinds of challenging jobs have the potential to enhance and protect workers’ mental functioning in later life,” posited Gwenith Fisher, a faculty associate at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and assistant professor of psychology at Colorado State University, in a statement.

The researchers examined data on more than 4,000 participants in the U-M Health and Retirement Study.

The researchers assessed the mental requirements of each job (analyzing data, making decisions, solving problems, etc.) that participants reported having between 1992 and 2010. They also determined participants’ mental functioning, utilizing standard tests of episodic memory and mental status.

After controlling for participants’ health, symptoms of depression, economic status and demographic characteristics, the researchers discovered that people who had toiled in jobs with tougher mental requirements were more likely to have slower declines in memory after retiring than people who had toiled in jobs with fewer mental requirements.

The gap between the two groups expanded over time.

“These results suggest that working in an occupation that requires a variety of mental processes may be beneficial to employees,” noted Jessica Faul, an ISR assistant research scientist.

“It’s likely that being exposed to new experiences or more mentally complex job duties may benefit not only newer workers but more seasoned employees as well,” Faul added. “Employers should strive to increase mental engagement at work and, if possible, outside of work as well, by emphasizing life-long learning activities.”

Although the study controlled for formal education and income, the researchers pointed out that it’s possible that people with greater levels of mental functioning chose jobs with higher mental requirements.

The findings are published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.