A recent study published in The Lancet suggests that individuals who work physically demanding jobs may be at a higher risk of developing dementia. The research, conducted by Vegard Skirbekk and his team at Columbia Public Health, in collaboration with the Norwegian National Centre of Ageing and Health and the Butler Columbia Aging Center, highlights the association between work-related physical activity and cognitive impairment.
The study examined the trajectories of occupational physical activity (PA) from ages 33-65 and its correlation with the risk of dementia and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) at ages 70 and above. The data of 7,005 participants from the HUNT4 70+ Study were analyzed, revealing that consistently working in physically demanding occupations with intermediate or high occupational PA increased the risk of cognitive impairment.
Specifically, jobs that require considerable use of the arms, legs, and whole body, such as climbing, lifting, and walking, were identified as demanding occupations. This includes roles in sales, nursing assistance, farming, and livestock production. On the other hand, journalists seemed to have a lower risk of occupation-induced Alzheimer’s.
The study suggests several reasons for these findings, including the lack of autonomy, prolonged standing, stress, and the higher risk of burnout associated with physically demanding jobs. Additionally, increased physical activity later in life has been linked to smaller hippocampal volume and poorer memory performance in older adults, further contributing to cognitive impairment.
In contrast, jobs that are less physically demanding may reduce the risk of cognitive impairment by allowing for more breaks and recovery time. Surprisingly, higher levels of leisure-time activity were associated with a lower risk of cognitive impairment, indicating that the “healthy body, healthy mind” mantra still holds true to some extent.
The study also noted that more cognitively stimulating occupations, such as engineering, administration, teaching, and those that require problem-solving, may help individuals maintain a higher level of cognition later in life.
The research emphasizes the importance of developing strategies and providing support for individuals in physically demanding occupations to prevent cognitive impairment. Further studies should also assess the relationship between occupational physical activity, other factors, and the risk of dementia and mild cognitive impairment in older ages.
This study adds to the growing body of evidence linking occupational physical activity to brain diseases. With more than 5.8 million people affected by Alzheimer’s in the United States alone, understanding these risk factors and developing preventive measures is crucial in combating dementia.
– The Lancet
– The Centers For Disease Control