Sedentary jobs may protect against memory loss in later life

20 Aug 2020 By Eleanor Whitehouse

Study finds those with manual jobs are more likely to experience poor cognition  

New research from the University of Cambridge published in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests people with jobs that require less physical activity may be at a lower risk of developing cognitive issues such as memory loss and concentration problems as they get older.

Researchers studied 8,500 men and women aged between 40 and 79 with various educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, asking participants to complete a questionnaire about their exercise and physical activity levels during both work and leisure time. An average of 12 years later, the participants underwent a series of cognition tests, including for memory, attention and visual processing speed.

The study discovered that physically inactive jobs – typically desk-based roles – were linked to a lower risk of poor cognition, with those who did this type of work for the duration of the study most likely to be in the top 10 per cent. At the other end of the spectrum, individuals in manual jobs were nearly three times as likely to experience poor cognition than those with inactive roles.

“Our analysis shows that the relationship between physical activity and cognitive is not straightforward,” explained Shabina Hayat from the department of public health and primary care at the University of Cambridge. “While regular physical activity has considerable benefits for protection against many chronic diseases, other factors may influence its effect on future poor cognition.

“People who have less active jobs performed better at cognitive tests regardless of their education. This suggests that because desk jobs tend to be more mentally challenging than manual occupations, they may offer protection against cognitive decline.”

However, the researchers said it was not possible to conclude that a combination of leisure-based physical activity and desk-based work offered protection against cognitive issues. 

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