A primary concern of many retirees is staying healthy and active not only in body, but in mind as well. There’s good news: a recent Health and Retirement Study from the National Institute of Aging and the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research concluded that individuals with mentally demanding jobs maintain higher cognitive function and have a better chance of offsetting dementia after retirement.
The study analyzed data from approximately 4,200 participants who were between the ages of 51 and 61 at the start of the study, which began in 1992 and concluded in 2010. Every two years the participants were interviewed regarding the “mental demands of their jobs, the type of decisions and problem solving their jobs required, objectives and strategies used as part of their work, the type of data which needed to be assessed, and evaluated the critical and creative thinking skills associated with their employment.” A variety of jobs were included and the average person had been employed for more than 25 years before retirement.
The results were encouraging:
While the differences in cognitive function were not dramatic immediately after retirement, the study found that as time went on the gap in mental health, between those who had mentally demanding jobs and those who did not, grew larger and doubled 15 years after retirement. When tested, those in the study who were engaged in work that had higher mental demands and challenged their mental faculties on a regular basis, scored better on a measure of cognitive thinking skills by more than 50 percent, Fisher explained.
The authors of the study, whose work was published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, concluded that choosing an occupation that requires a variety of mental processes or re-designing jobs that are less cognitively complex could offer multiple benefits to employees down the road; the more mentally demanding a job is the more likely one will offset the development of dementia after retirement.
Of course, mentally demanding jobs are just one way to maintain cognitive health after retirement; healthy eating, reading, playing mentally stimulating games, socializing, and regular physical activity are just some of the ways to stay healthy and happy in retirement. So remember: don’t just take care of your body, take care of your mind as well!