Your desk job isn’t as mind-numbing as you think

Ever feel like you might be mindlessly going through the motions at your desk? Filling out TPS reports, reading memos, and getting hit with unnecessary Reply-All emails…

It turns out that it’s actually good for your brain.

People who work in office or desk jobs are at a lower risk of cognitive decline later in life than those whose work is more physically demanding career paths, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge.

People often believe that regular physical activity, which is known to be good for the body, is also good for the mind. However, this new study indicates that this is not always the case.

The researchers examined the patterns of physical activity among 8,500 men and women who were aged from 40-79 years at the outset of the study and who had a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and levels of education. Specifically, the team separated the participants levels of physical activity during the workday and in their personal time to see if these had any impact on cognition later in life.

This was determined by study participants returning for a variety of tests that measured their memory, attention, visual processing speed, and a reading ability test that approximates IQ over an average period of 12 years.

Some of the findings were quite surprising.

    – People who had fewer qualifications were more likely to have physically demanding jobs, but they were also less likely to be physically active outside of work.

    – People who worked in desk jobs or typical office roles had a lower risk of poor cognition, regardless of their level of education. The participants who stayed in white collar roles throughout the study period were the most likely to be in the top 10 per cent of cognitive performers.

    – Participants in manual labour jobs had almost three times the increased risk of poor cognition than those with office jobs.

“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 – typically office-based, desk 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.”

The bottom line seems to be balance. If you work in a physical job that is not mentally challenging, you need to find other ways to keep your brain sharp as you age. Mental exercises, puzzles, reading, continual learning, and other activities that stimulate the brain can be vital.

Similarly, if you work at a desk job that challenges your mind, it may be good for your brain, but your overall health will suffer if you don’t add physical activity to your regular routine.

You can read the full research summary from the University of Cambridge.

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