By November 29, 2012 Read More →

Challenge and Change Protect Your Brain

Challenge and Change Protect Your Brain

“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” — Seneca

If your job makes you think, good for you.  Challenge and change protect your brain for the long haul.

Specifically, complex work helps reduce the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

It’s like the old saying, “use it or lose it.”    If you don’t want to lose it, then find ways to use it.   And, the beauty is that the benefits of complex work go beyond age, gender, childhood circumstances, or education.

In the book, Maximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom, Shlomo Breznits and Collins Hemingway reveal how complex work can help protect your brain  from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

People, Things, and Data

Breznits and Hemingway write:
“Researchers have looked at the overall complexity of occupations along with the nature of the work — whether the occupation primarily involves people (sales, human resources, etc.), things (construction, manufacturing, etc.) or data (financial analysis, software programming, etc.).”

Basically, you can think of the nature of work as either more people, things, or data.

Reduced Risk for Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Breznits and Hemingway write:
“The degree of protection offered by long-term complex work is staggering.  For long-term jobs involving things, the risk was reduced 55 percent for dementia and 52 percent for Alzheimer’s.  For long-term jobs involving people, the risk was reduced 64 percent for dementia and 69 percent for Alzheimer’s.”

This is where things get interesting.    What the data shows is that we can dramatically reduce our risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s by doing work that makes us think, especially if the work involves working with other people.

Jobs with Complex Data Have Mixed Results

Breznits and Hemingway write:
“Jobs involving complexity with data had mixed results.  In the Canadian study, shorter-term complex occupations involving data generally had no impact on cognitive health, but longer-term jobs actually increased the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.  Researchers speculated that data-related jobs might have been more stressful or more socially isolating, offsetting the benefits of complexity.  Negative results were limited to men, possibly because women tend to have stronger social networks both inside and outside of work.”

I think the most interesting note here is that the negative results were limited to men.  The researchers might be on to something where stress and isolation can take their toll, especially if we think about the heart-head link.

So the next time you find yourself complaining that work makes you think too hard, smile to yourself, embrace the challenge, and remind yourself of the benefits of complex work.

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4 Comments on "Challenge and Change Protect Your Brain"

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  1. Great post!

    I find that the brain basically is kind of lazy, challenging it will keep it on its toes. This makes sure it has to evolve constantly and improve.

  2. JD says:

    @ Frederik — Thank you.

    It’s another reminder that continuous improvement and lifelong learning have their benefits.

  3. soofian says:

    Great JD!

    A very nice sharing. I do software programming and feeling the same thing which Seneca said.

    When working with complex data for analysis, it produces lots of stress on mind. I would really like to know how to deal with that stress.

    Thanks!!!!