A new study conducted by the Norwegian National Centre of Ageing and Health, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and the Butler Columbia Aging Center suggests that people who work in physically demanding jobs may be at a greater risk of developing dementia and cognitive impairment.
The study, which analyzed data from the HUNT4 70+ Study, one of the largest population-based studies of dementia, found that individuals who engaged in physically demanding work had a 15.5 percent higher risk of developing dementia or experiencing cognitive impairment later in life. The risk decreased to nine percent for those in jobs with low physical demands.
Physically demanding jobs were defined as those that required a significant amount of physical activity, such as climbing, lifting, balancing, walking, stooping, and handling materials. Examples of such jobs included salespeople, nursing assistants, care assistants, crop farmers, and animal producers.
The researchers suggested that several factors could contribute to the association between physically demanding jobs and the increased risk of dementia. These factors include reduced hippocampal volume and poorer memory performance associated with high physical demands in later adulthood, as well as the effects of prolonged physical exertion on brain health and cognitive function.
Furthermore, individuals in physically demanding jobs may have limited autonomy, experience high levels of stress, and have rigid working hours, which could lead to burnout and negative cognitive outcomes. In contrast, jobs with low physical demands may offer more flexibility, breaks, and recovery time.
The study authors also highlighted the physical activity paradox, which refers to the association between leisure-time physical activity and better cognitive outcomes, in contrast to the potential negative effects of work-related physical activity on cognitive health.
Lead author Vegard Skirbekk emphasized the importance of following individuals with high levels of lifetime occupational physical activity, as they appear to have a greater risk of developing dementia. Future research should further explore the relationship between occupational physical activity, interventions to reduce physical activity, technological changes that alter activity levels, and the risk of dementia and cognitive impairment in older age groups.
In conclusion, while regular physical activity is generally beneficial for overall health, this study suggests that individuals in physically demanding jobs should take precautions to prevent cognitive impairment and dementia. This includes implementing strategies to reduce physical demands and optimizing recovery time.
– Norwegian National Centre of Ageing and Health, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and the Butler Columbia Aging Center
– HUNT4 70+ Study