Do you have a job where you regularly find yourself having to take into account and adjust to new information? That can keep you on your toes, but it might also help keep your brain in top shape over time, according to a new study from researchers at Columbia University.
In the study, researchers analyzed data collected over the course of 14 years from 4,252 working adults in the United States. The adults were employed in a range of jobs and they were all over the age of the 50, which is relevant because the researchers were interested in whether people’s job types would be linked to how their cognitive abilities changed with age.
The researchers were especially interested in the idea of novel information processing – that is, whether participants’ jobs involved regularly dealing with new information.
By looking at people’s performance on two different types of memory tests, the researchers found that having a job that demanded processing more new information was linked to less decline in cognitive abilities with age. That was true even after accounting for several other factors that might impact cognitive aging, such as people’s cognitive skills at the beginning of the 14 years and the way they tended to spend their free time.
Some previous research has raised the possibility that having a more complex job can help maintain cognitive functioning. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study from Columbia found that people whose jobs required processing more novel information tended to also have more complex jobs. However, being required to regularly incorporate new information at work seemed to have further benefits beyond simply having a more complex job.
In their paper, the authors concluded that these results “suggest that mental stimulation through [novel information processing at work] is one mechanism (in the work context) that buffers cognitive decline.” To put it another way, there are many factors that go into determining how people’s cognitive abilities change with age, but mental stimulation is one of those factors – and having to often deal with new information in the workplace is one specific type of mental stimulation that might help protect brain health over time.