Brain stimulation is just as crucial to the body as nourishment from food. However, just like excessive food makes you obese, overworking grey matter can be counterproductive for your brain.
The latest research shows that middle-aged people (aged 40 plus) perform best when they work 25 hours a week (3 working days). When work hours extend past 25, cognitive functions and the overall performance dropped as “fatigue and stress” took effect.
At the age of 40, cognitive abilities start decreasing. Usually, the decline in cognitive abilities manifests itself in a loss in the ability to focus and remember important facts. Overstimulating the brain and excessive working not only puts pressure on your mind but your body as well.
The study was published in the Melbourne Institute Worker Paper series and it involved a series of cognitive tests. 3,000 Australian men and 3,500 women were gathered and their work habits were analyzed. They were tested by their ability to read words aloud and recite lists of numbers. This test measured their “knowing” and “thinking” ability respectively. It also included executive reasoning, abstract reasoning, and memory tests.
The study—Household Colin Labour Dynamics in Australia survey—concluded that the participants working 25 hours a week performed best while, on the other hand, the results of those working 55 hours were even worse than unemployed participants.
Professor Colin McKenzie from Keio University, one of the three authors of the study, noted that “Many countries are going to raise their retirement ages by delaying the age at which people are eligible to start receiving pension benefits. This means that more people continue to work in the later stages of their life.”
“The degree of intellectual stimulation may depend on working hours. Work can be a double-edged sword, in that it can stimulate brain activity, but at the same time, long working hours can cause fatigue and stress, which potentially damage cognitive functions.”
“We point out that differences in working hours are important for maintaining cognitive functioning in middle-aged and elderly adults. This means that, in middle and older age, working part-time could be effective in maintaining cognitive ability.”
Nevertheless, it’s not clear why working more than 30 hours a week can be damaging to your brain and vice-versa.
Professor McKenzie describes work as a double-edged sword. He says, “While work can stimulate brain activity, working long hours can cause fatigue and stress, which potentially damage cognitive functions. Full-time work (40 hours a week) is still better than no work in terms of maintaining cognitive functioning, but it is not maximising the positive effects of work.”
The study and the results will vary from country to country as the variables involved changes from place to place. It’s hard to control all factors of the study that contributes to the final result (including choices around the hours worked and the type of work).
People over the age of 40 should be careful not to overstimulate their brains. Anything that causes stress and fatigue can be your body’s way of alerting you to danger sign and should be stopped.
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