Your chosen profession could influence your cognitive decline in old age. This is the observation made by an international team of researchers, which reveals that jobs subject to moderate or high physical activity are associated with an increased risk of cognitive disorders and dementia.
“Work is health“…Unless it subjects individuals to medium to high levels of physical activity. This is the conclusion of a study led by researchers from the Norwegian National Center of Aging and Health, the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and from the Butler Columbia Aging Center. They were interested in a possible association between professions exercised during working life, more precisely between the ages of 33 and 65, and the development of cognitive disorders from the age of 70.
“The paradox of physical activity”
Published in the medical journal The Lancet Regional Health – Europe, this work focused on the analysis of 7,005 people, of whom 2,407 developed mild cognitive disorders and 902 a form of dementia. Previous studies have already looked into the subject, but only focusing on “a single measure of professional activity“, and not on the professional history of the participants over a period of more than three decades. A detail which is not without importance if we consider that the silent phase of dementia can begin up to twenty years before the appearance of symptoms.
This research suggests that having a job that requires some physical intensity – medium to high – is associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment. In detail, the risk of dementia and mild cognitive impairment was 15.5% among participants who had physically intense work in the latter part of their professional life, compared to 9% for those whose work required little or no work. physical activity. Conclusions which could ultimately make it possible to initiate new strategies to limit these effects.
“It is essential to understand how levels of physical activity in the workplace are linked to cognitive impairment and dementia. Our work also highlights the so-called physical activity paradox – the association of leisure-time physical activity with better cognitive outcomes, and how work-related physical activity can lead poorer cognitive outcomes“, explains Professor Vegard Skirbekk, one of the main authors of the study, in a press release.
Increased risk among nurses and salespeople
There are numerous studies that actually seek to demonstrate the benefits of sport, and more broadly of physical activity, on mental health and cognitive functions. In a press release dated 2019, the Federation for Brain Research (FRC) explained that the practice of sport could induce “an improvement in cognitive abilities, and (…) could even protect against certain brain pathologies such as neurodegenerative diseases and depression“. But it was then a question of practicing physical activity during free time, and not as part of a professional activity.
Examples of professions subject to moderate or high physical activity provided by the study include salespeople, nurses, care workers, and even farmers. So many jobs are subject to numerous physical inconveniences, including prolonged standing, extended or staggered hours, and tasks that are difficult to accomplish, as the researchers point out.
“Future research should assess how occupational physical activity and interventions to reduce occupational physical activity or technological changes leading to activity modification, in combination with other job characteristics, are related to risk dementia and mild cognitive impairment at older ages. This will allow us to better understand the association between work history and cognitive impairment.“, concludes Professor Skirbekk.