A recent study published in The Lancet Regional Health – Europe suggests that individuals with physically demanding jobs may have an increased risk of developing dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The study found that those with high levels of occupational physical activity had a 15.5% risk of dementia, compared to a 9% risk for those with low levels of physical activity in their work. Additionally, individuals with intermediate levels of physical activity were found to be at a higher risk of MCI, but not necessarily dementia.
The study analyzed data from the HUNT4 70+ Study, which included 7,005 participants aged 33-65 from the county of Trøndelag in Sweden. Occupational physical activity was defined as activities that require significant use of the arms, legs, and whole body, such as climbing, lifting, balancing, and walking. The study rated occupational physical activity on a scale of one to five.
The study’s corresponding author, Dr. Vegard Skirbekk, explained that the purpose of the research was to gain a better understanding of the risks for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias throughout one’s life. He emphasized the importance of considering dementia risks from a life-course perspective.
Experts not involved in the study supported its life-course approach, stating that it provides a more comprehensive understanding of how occupational histories can impact cognitive health. They noted that physical activity intensity tends to decrease with age, making a long-term assessment crucial.
The study’s finding regarding the link between intermediate occupational physical activity and MCI was of particular interest to experts. Dr. Skirbekk suggested that the degree of physical strain may play a role in this association.
However, experts cautioned against drawing definitive conclusions from the study’s findings. They pointed out that factors such as socioeconomic status and job-related stress could confound the relationship between occupational physical activity and cognitive impairment.
To protect cognitive health, individuals with physically demanding jobs are advised to have autonomy, take breaks, and have a sense of control over their physical demands. Following standard advice for dementia risk factors, such as avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol intake, and physical inactivity, is also recommended. Structured exercise during leisure time, including aerobic exercise, strength training, and neural motor exercise, can be beneficial. Adequate sleep is essential for cognitive health as well.
Experts called for further research on occupational risks, environmental exposures, and job stresses to gain a better understanding of their impact on longevity and health outcomes. By comprehending the relationships between these factors, it may be possible to identify additional contributors to brain health.