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Desk-based jobs offer protection against poor cognition in later life

People who work in jobs that require less physical activity, with typical office and desk-based jobs are at a lower risk of subsequent poor cognition than those whose work is more physically active.

Lack of physical activity and exercise are known risk factors for major health conditions, including cognitive impairments such as memory and concentration problems. However, evidence as to whether physical activity actually protects against cognitive decline has often been mixed and inconclusive.

Researchers examined patterns of physical activity among 8,500 men and women who were aged 40-79 years old at the start of the study and who had a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and educational attainment.

As part of the study, participants completed a health and lifestyle questionnaire, including information on the level of physical activity during both work and leisure, and underwent a health examination. After an average 12 years, the volunteers were invited back and completed a battery of tests that measured aspects of their cognition, including memory, attention, visual processing speed and a reading ability test that approximates IQ.

The researchers also report that:

  • Individuals with no qualifications were more likely to have physically active jobs, but less likely to be physically active outside of work.

  • A physically inactive job (typically a desk-job), is associated with a lower risk of poor cognition, irrespective of the level of education. Those who remained in this type of work throughout the study period were the most likely to be in the top 10% of performers.

  • Those in manual work had almost three times increased risk of poor cognition than those with an inactive job.


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