Your Incredibly Hard Job Could Have a Surprising Benefit for Your Health

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By Shana Lebowitz

Days spent crunching numbers or reviewing manuscripts could drive you crazy — but could also protect you from cognitive decline later in life.

That's according to new research, which suggests jobs that involve certain kinds of challenging mental tasks can boost memory and thinking years down the road.

The study, led by Francisca Then, Ph.D., at the University of Leipzig in Germany, involved about 1,000 participants over age 75. Every 1.5 years for eight years, the researchers tested the participants' memory and cognitive ability.They also asked participants about their professional histories and categorized the work they did as either executive, verbal, or fluid tasks. Executive tasks involve things like developing strategies and resolving conflicts. Verbal tasks involve evaluating and interpreting information. Fluid tasks involve selective attention and analyzing data.

As it turns out, people whose jobs entailed the highest rates in all three types of tasks scored the highest on the tests and had the slowest rate of cognitive decline. In particular, work that involved executive tasks seemed to be the most protective against cognitive decline.

Previous research has found that education is beneficial for your mental health. But Then told Psychology Today that her research "suggests that the type of work you do throughout your career may have even more significance on your brain health than your education does."

Of course, this study doesn't necessarily prove that your work environment changes your cognitive functioning — it's also possible that people with greater cognitive ability choose more mentally taxing jobs to begin with.

And this study hardly implies that feeling frazzled every day is healthy. It's more about being challenged, so that you're constantly using your brain and feeling intellectually stimulated.
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