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


08-07-2020
  Man working in an office  Credit: StockSnap

People who work in jobs that require less physical activity – typically office and desk-based jobs – are at a lower risk of subsequent poor cognition than those whose work is more physically active, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge. 

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 at the University of Cambridge 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. The individuals were all part of the EPIC-Norfolk Cohort. In particular, the team were able to separate physical activity during work and leisure to see if these had different associations with later life cognition.

“The often used mantra ‘what is good for the heart, is good for the brain’ makes complete sense, but the evidence on what we need to do as individuals can be confusing,” said Shabina Hayat from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge. “With our large cohort of volunteers, we were able to explore the relationship between different types of physical activity in a variety of settings.”

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.

While many studies have only been able to report cross-sectional findings, the ability to follow up EPIC-Norfolk participants over a long period allowed the researchers to examine data prospectively. This helped them rule out any bias resulting from people with poor cognition – possibly as a result of cognitive impairment or early dementia – being less likely to be physically active due to poor cognition, rather than poor cognition being a result of physical inactivity.

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Image: Man working in an office

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Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

 

The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk)