"Certain kinds of challenging jobs have the potential to enhance and protect workers' mental functioning in later life," said Gwenith Fisher, assistant professor of psychology at Colorado State University.

The study was based on data spanning 18 years and involved 4,182 participants.

Participants were interviewed about eight times between 1992 and 2010, starting when they were between ages 51 and 61.

They worked in a wide variety of jobs and had been doing the same type of work for more than 25 years, on average, before they retired.

The study found that people who had worked in jobs with greater mental demands were more likely to have better memories before they retired.

They were more likely to have slower declines in memory than people who had worked in jobs with fewer mental demands.

The differences at the time of retirement were not large, but they grew over time.

"These results suggest that working in an occupation that requires a variety of mental processes may be beneficial to employees," said Jessica Faul, an assistant research scientist at University of Michigan's institute for social research.

"It is likely that being exposed to new experiences or more mentally complex job duties may benefit not only newer workers but more seasoned employees as well," she commented.

What people do outside of work could also be a factor, Fisher said in the paper that appeared in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

(Agencies)

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