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Mentally challenging job may keep brain sharper for longer

May 13, 2008 |  4:00 am

Brian500

Is your job a brain-buster? Here's something to think about: Having an intellectually challenging job may help stave off cognitive decline in old age.

In a study of 1,036 male twins, using data that went back to the early 1940s, researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that the more mentally challenging one's job, the better memory and other cognitive abilities held up after retirement, regardless of one's intelligence or years of education.

Further, the benefits of hard pondering at work were greatest among people who scored lower on IQ tests as children, while physically demanding jobs were associated with a decline in intellectual abilities in later life.

"Although the intellectual and physical demands of an individual's job are not the largest factors influencing cognitive performance as we age," says lead author Guy Potter, assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke, "this study illustrates how a number of smaller influences like these can accumulate over the life span to have a positive or negative effect on brain health in later life." The study appears in the May issue of the journal Neurology. Here's a link to the study's abstract (viewing the full study requires a subscription).

--Janet Cromley

Photo: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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