Chained to computer? Your desk-job may be good for your health

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Conventional wisdom has it that a desk-job with long hours before the computer is unhealthy, but new research released on Tuesday suggests that a typical office-based job has a lower risk of poor cognition compared to those that involve manual work.

Research by experts at the University of Cambridge has concluded that 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.

Lack of physical activity and exercise are known risk factors for major health conditions, including cognitive impairments such as memory and concentration problems. But evidence on whether physical activity actually protects against cognitive decline is inconclusive.

The researchers examined patterns of physical activity among 8,500 men and women aged 40-79 years at the start of the study and who had a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and educational attainment. The team was able to separate physical activity during work and leisure to see if these had different associations with later life cognition.

The study, published on Tuesday in the International Journal of Epidemiology, concludes that individuals with no qualifications were more likely to have physically active jobs, but less likely to be physically active outside of work.

Besides, a physically inactive job (typically a desk-job), is associated with 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, the study adds.

Says the study’s lead author Shabina Hayat: “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”.

“People who have less active jobs – typically office-based, desk jobs – performed better at cognitive tests regardless of their education. This suggests that because desk jobs tend to be more mentally challenging than manual occupations, they may offer protection against cognitive decline.”

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