The next time you come home from a super-stressful day at work, and you still have nine deadlines looming and a big presentation to prepare for, don’t fret. Imagine you’ve just taken your brain for a 10-mile run.
As NPR reports, researchers at the University of Leipzig in Germany have published a study in Neurology suggesting that people with challenging jobs that require a lot of analytical thinking tend to maintain their memory and thinking skills into old age — at least relative to their peers.
“After a long run, you may feel like you’re in pain, you may feel exhausted,” said cognitive psychologist and epidemiologist Francisca Then, who led the study. “But it makes you fit. After a long day at work — sure, you will feel exhausted, but it can help your brain stay healthy.”
The study involved more than 1,000 retired workers aged 75 and up. Over a period of eight years, researchers met with these volunteers every 18 months to perform a series of tests meant to measure memory and cognitive function. Even accounting for health and socioeconomic factors, they found that individuals with mentally stimulating jobs lost their brain function at a much slower rate than folks with other sorts of jobs. (As NPR points out, however, environmental and genetic factors unrelated to career can lead to cognitive decline, and highly intelligent people can develop dementia.)
And here’s the best part: The team’s findings don’t only apply to, say, chemical engineers and Fortune 500 CEOs. As NPR reports, even a barista who’s tasked daily with remembering a ton of orders, making nice with coworkers, and making decisions in a fast-paced environment — a crowded restaurant where people want their coffee, pronto — could qualify.
Even stay-at-home parents might reap the long-term brain benefits, Then says, since their work requires loads of planning and coordinating of schedules.
“You have to organize the activities of the children and take care of the bills and groceries,” she says.