Maintaining mental health as you age: When you quit working, workout more – study finds memory declines rapidly after retirement
02/04/2018 // Michelle Simmons // Views

If you want to prevent your brain from aging, do not stop from being physically and mentally active. This is because a study discovered that cognitive function declines faster after quitting work. The study was carried out by a team of researchers from the University College London and Kings College London that looked at the impact of retirement on cognitive function.

More than 3,400 civil servants involved in the Whitehall II study, a long-term health investigation, took part in the study. The participants went through regular memory tests for more than 30 years which covered the final part of their careers and after their retirement. The tests included verbal memory, abstract reasoning, phonemic verbal fluency, and semantic verbal fluency.

Results revealed that verbal memory, which naturally deteriorates as people age, declined 38 percent faster after retirement in comparison to before the participants retired. It was also found that even though mentally demanding jobs protected high-ranking civil servants from brain aging, the protective effect was lost when they quit working. This indicate that mentally challenging and higher grade jobs do not prevent cognitive decline, unless retirees continue to be physically and mentally active.

“The smaller cognitive decline before retirement in employees from high employment grade jobs points to the potential benefits of cognitively stimulating activities associated with employment that could benefit older people’s memory,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers believe that the study highlights the benefits of encouraging work activities that can be advantageous for the mental health of older people. The findings of the study were published in the European Journal of Epidemiology. (Related: Green tea helps maintain functional ability and prevent cognitive decline as we age.)


Exercise to slow down cognitive decline

In a study carried out by a group of researchers from the University of Miami, it was revealed that people who exercised lightly or did not exercise at all had a decline equivalent to 10 more years of aging in comparison with people who did moderate to intense exercise.

"Our study showed that for older people, getting regular exercise may be protective, helping them keep their cognitive abilities longer," said study author Clinton B. Wright.

In conducting the study, the research team examined the data of more than 800 people who took part in the Northern Manhattan Study. The study participants were asked about the frequency and duration of the exercise they performed two weeks before that date. After an average of seven years, each participant was given tests of memory and thinking skills and a brain MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Five years later, they took the memory and thinking tests again.

Data showed that 90 percent of the participants reported light to no exercise, while the remaining 10 percent were those who reported moderate to high intensity exercise, such as running, aerobics, or calisthenics. The findings of the study, published in the journal Neurology, revealed that the participants who reported low physical activity levels displayed a faster decline in a span of five years than those with high physical activity levels. The difference, which was equivalent to 10 years of aging, remained even after other factors that could affect brain health, such as smoking, alcohol use, high blood pressure, and body mass index, were taken into consideration.

"Physical activity is an attractive option to reduce the burden of cognitive impairment in public health because it is low cost and doesn't interfere with medications," said Wright.

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