Can Your Career Help Keep Your Mind Sharp in Later Life?

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Increasing research suggests that more stimulating mental work translates to better brain function in later life. Now, a team of Scottish psychologists provides further support with evidence showing that the complexity of a person’s main lifetime occupation is associated with better cognitive performance at age 70.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, was based on examining available data on IQ, general ability, processing speed, and memory from a database involving 1,066 men and women all born in 1936. To reach their findings, the researchers factored in IQ data from the age of 11 and cognitive testing done many decades later, at age 70, when most of the subjects in the study were retired.

According to the researchers, people with intellectually complex jobs involving analyzing or synthesizing data, instructing others, or negotiating, scored higher in late life thinking skills. Thus, former social workers, graphic designers, architects, engineers, lawyers, surgeons, and probation officers, as examples, typically did well on their mental testing.

As one of the researchers said, the results are in sync with the “use it or lose it” concept; in this case, what’s at stake is one’s mental muscle. The researchers aren’t sure about the dynamics of brainpower preservation; however, they suggest that jobs that are more mentally stimulating can promote and maintain acuity and skills, which can be utilized later in life.

 My Viewpoint: This is a neat study that is ongoing; the researchers will be able to further hone their findings with the same subjects at more advanced ages. For sure, what you do with your brain during a career will contribute to staying sharp as you age. However, there are obviously other lifestyle factors involved such as stress, diet, and exercise. Poor diet, lack of exercise, and chronic stress can shorten lives and undermine the quality of mental and physical function.

 What This Means to You: Use it or lose it resonates with me. I recall one of my patients, a retired engineer, who regularly did crossword and mathematical puzzles to keep his brain stimulated. I myself, learned how to use a computer later in life – not only for the purpose of brain exercise, but also to keep up in an increasingly computerized world.

 My Recommendation: Support your aging brain. Make sure you exercise, mentally and physically. Even a little can help. Figure out ways to counteract stress: laugh more; meditate; eat a healthy diet, with less sugar, such as a Mediterranean Diet, enhanced with healthy fats from extra-virgin olive oil or nuts; supplement with a good multi-vitamin & mineral, B complex, CoQ10, and vitamin D. Keep yourself well hydrated, not with sugar packed sodas or alcohol (which can prematurely age your brain), but with purified and refreshing water.

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