Alternative MethodsConventional Methods


March 29

Is Full-Time Work Bad for Our Brains

Sylvester Dean
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time 6 min.

If you’re over 40, working more than 25 hours a week could be affecting your intelligence, new research suggests.

Don’t do an IQ test after a full week’s work if you are 40 years or older. You could be disappointed.

If you’re over 40, working more than 25 hours of work a week could be impairing your intelligence, according to a study released in February by researchers for the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research in Australia. The team conducted reading, pattern and memory tests in more than 6,000 workers aged over 40, to see how the number of hours worked each week affects a person’s cognitive ability.

Excessively long working hours can cause fatigue and physical and/or psychological stress, which potentially damage cognitive functioning

Working 25 hours a week (part time or three days a week) was the optimum amount of time spent working a week for cognitive functioning, while working less than that was detrimental to the agility of the brain for both men and women, the study found.

“Work can stimulate brain activity and can help maintain cognitive functions for elderly workers, the ‘lose it or use it hypothesis’,” said lead researcher Colin McKenzie, a professor of economics at Keio University in Tokyo.

“But at the same time, excessively long working hours can cause fatigue and physical and/or psychological stress, which potentially damage cognitive functioning.”

But why is age 40 the turning point for the mind?

According to McKenzie, our “fluid intelligence”, which is how well we process information, starts declining around the age of 20 and “crystallised intelligence”, or the ability to use skills, knowledge and experience starts decreasing after 30 years of age. McKenzie said that by age 40, most people perform less well at memory tests, pattern recognition and mental agility exercises.

By age 40, most people perform less well at memory tests, pattern recognition and mental agility exercises

As many countries have already increased their retirement ages, delaying when people are eligible to start receiving pension payments, McKenzie’s latest findings on cognitive fatigue are important.

“Work can be a double-edged sword, in that it can stimulate brain activity, but at the same time, long working hours and certain types of tasks can cause fatigue and stress which potentially damage cognition,” he said.

The science behind it

McKenzie’s findings suggest that although economics may now be forcing us to work much longer than in previous generations, biologically and emotionally our minds may not be designed for the stress and repetition of working nine-to-five, five days a week when we are over 40.

Previous studies have shown that workers of various ages doing overtime can suffer chronic stress, cognitive impairment and also mental illness. One 1996 study from the Boston University School of Public Health indicated that overtime work had adverse effects on the mental health of employees in the automobile industry, such as on the assembly line in a factory.

McKenzie’s research differs in that his team has found that such health and cognitive issues can occur at a much lower threshold than previously thought — that is, in people over 40 working a regular week, rather than doing overtime.

‘Sandwich years’ are when many adults have at least one person to look after, a child or an elderly parent, on top of working full-time

The negative effects of stress on the mind are well-documented in neurological research. Stress affects cognitive functioning primarily through hormones, in particular, steroid hormones and the stress hormone, cortisol, in the brain which in turn can affect short-term memory, concentration, inhibition and rational thought.

But there may be other factors at play as to why 40 seems to be a critical turning point.

McKenzie’s team is now looking into the driving factors behind their research such as the “sandwich years” when many adults have at least one person to look after, a child or an elderly parent, on top of working full-time.

That creates a job on top of a job, where the person rarely gets a break. According to the US National Alliance for Caregiving in a survey conducted last year a typical caregiver in the US is a 49-year-old employed female, currently caring for a 69-year-old female relative who needs care because of a long-term physical condition. She has been providing care for four years on average, spending 24.4 hours a week in a care role, on top of her work and other family responsibilities.

The sleep factor

Sleep also plays a role in being able to endure a full week of work. Until recently, high achievers often prided themselves on getting very little sleep. Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to say she could work effectively on only four hours sleep a night — though archive video footage captures her snoozing during the day. Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of the Huffington Post, claimed too she used to sleep around five hours a night until she realised it was bad for her health, now calling sleep deprivation the “new smoking”.

More than seven hours sleep a night is recommended for people over 26 years

But how much sleep should one get? The US National Sleep Foundation recommends more than seven hours sleep a night for people over 26 years.

Learning and memory depend on sleep and recreation, according to Karl Ericsson, professor of psychology at Florida State University. McKenzie’s research isn’t dissimilar to Ericsson’s.

“Restful sleep is critical to high levels of performance,” Ericsson said.

One size doesn’t fit all

Ericsson’s research also supports McKenzie’s premise that a 40-hour week isn’t optimal for high performance. Ericsson’s research, however, isn’t age specific but rather looks at the total number of hours optimal per day, each week, for high performance.

Expert performers engaged in practice for 21-35 hours per week but no more than three to five hours per day

“We found that expert performers engaged in practice for 21-35 hours per week but no more than three to five hours per day,” Ericsson said.

“Under complete freedom to work, these individuals did not spend more than those weekly totals, suggesting that this amount of effort was judged to be optimal for them.”

A need to work

It’s all well and good, however, to discuss how much better we would be if we worked less than a 40-hour week in an office, but for many people who need the income to survive, it’s not a viable financial option. Many over 40s also wouldn’t dream of working less than a 40-hour week, given the option, as they say it gives them a necessary stimulus, calling the research overblown.

Richard Salisbury, age 58, who lives in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney in Australia is one of them. Having worked both part time and full time for himself and for companies in-house as an information technology manager, he rejects the notion that less is more.

“In fact I found that I dealt with demands on my time more easily as I gained experience or just became older,” Salisbury said.

“I find the idea of a 25-hour threshold more than novel,” he said. “The vast majority of people with whom I worked had no noticeable impact on their cognitive ability by doing a 35- or 40-hour week.”

Penny Evans, a 50-year-old policy adviser at a charity in London, works four days a week now but used to work 25 hours a week at the same charity, is of two minds as to whether three days (25 hours a week) or four days a week is best for performance and anxiety.

“Three days a week is great for work-life balance, especially when you have children at home but you are likely to fall out of touch and possibly sidelined. Four days a week means I feel pretty much fully connected to my team but I have an extra day off that helps me deal with other responsibilities.”

The key, Evans said, is having flexibility. The stress of her job is manageable, she said, helped by fairly widespread acceptance in the sector that employees should leave the office by 18:00.

“But in terms of the ideal amount of hours at work each week, it is difficult to say. When young and wholly committed with minimal other responsibilities, I seemed to thrive on working flat out but not sure how that would feel nowadays with everything so incredibly fast with email and social media.”

Healthy work

In last year’s Britain’s Healthiest Company awards, that were supported by the University of Cambridge in the UK (which didn’t include NGOs), sports goods, pharmaceutical and IT companies that topped the list for healthiest companies. All allowed time away from the desk and the opportunity to stay physically healthy.

For example, flexible hours at some of these companies allow employees to leave work early and some like Sweaty Betty provide exercise classes at lunchtime.

But Carol Black, principal of Newnham College, University of Cambridge and chair of the Britain’s Healthiest Company Advisory Group that supports the awards, isn’t so sure that older workers need less contact hours a week to function well.

In her view: “The most important thing about work is that it should be ‘good work’. If it is good, it does not matter whether full-or part-time.”

By Georgina Kenyon

/Georgina Kenyon

Comments

Leave your questions here

To write a comment you must
or
Services
Category filter
Concern filter
Type filter
Sort
 

All categories

Angel Healing
$10 USD
Mental Health Advice & Tips

I can help you with past issues and give advice and tips on how to better your life. I can see through my third eye and receive messageson what you need to do …

Beings Of Light
Life Coaching
$10 USD
Discovery call

Are you interested in supporting your health with safe and effective holistic medicine? Not sure if you should switch diets, work with a health coach or explor…

Suzana Da Costa
Wellness Coaching
$50 USD
Mental Health and Holistic Lifestyle Coaching

Hi there! I’m Doug and I offer 1 on 1 Holistic Lifestyle and Mental Health Coaching sessions. Navtigating life with mental health issues of any sevarity is a h…

Doug Peterson
Wellness Coaching
$10 USD
Mental Health and Holistic Lifestyle Coaching Consultation

Hi there! I’m Doug and I offer 1 on 1 Holistic Lifestyle and Mental Health Coaching sessions. Navtigating life with mental health issues of any sevarity is a h…

Doug Peterson
Career Coaching
$195 USD
Holistic Lifestyle & Nutrition Coaching

ARE YOU TIRED? STRESSED OUT? STRUGGLING WITH YOUR WEIGHT? UNDER SLEPT? LOST YOUR ZEST FOR LIFE?

If this sounds like you, then you don’t need a new diet… you n…

David Giddings
Bach flower therapy
$120 USD
Bach Flower Essence Consultation

Exploration of where you’re feeling stuck or limited in life and recommendations of Bach Flower Essences to help loosen and dissolve old patterns.

Suzana Da Costa
Cognitive-behavioral therapy
$100 USD
Subliminal therapy

In this service we will use Subliminal therapy and Sound healing as alternative to tradition cognitive behavioral therapy.

We are born with our thoughts. Do n…

Ahmed Amin Youssef
Psychic Reading
$10 USD
I will do oracle and tarot card readings

I will do oracle & tarot card reading in any area of your life. You will get answer from the Angelic, Elemental, Faerie or Galactic realms. I will share wi…

Wisdom Realms
Spiritual Healing
$10 USD
Intro 2 Alignment Healing Chant

Namaste.

That is my greeting to the spirit within you. Join me for a welcome introduction session to celebrate my arrival at Core Spirit!

For 15 minutes I wi…

Ti3rc3 Fire
Mediumism
$55 USD
Psychic Medium Readings

READINGS Currently, all readings will be offered virtually. Appointments are available on Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 9am-1pm (UK Time Zone). When we…

Jan Morgan
Wellness Coaching
$10 USD
Ask a Question?

Supportive reflection of a current question that you would like clarity around. Using the SMART method to seek quidance in stepping onto your path of potential…

Beverly Lynn
Oracle Cards Reading
$25 USD
Psychic Reading 15 Minutes

Well-versed in the main 5 clairs, I will Intuitively answer your questions for 15 minutes.

Jyll Hoyrup
Emotional Stress Release
$150 USD
Creatrix® Breakthrough

This is a revolutionary process, SPECIALLY designed for women. You will be able to clear your most depeest BLOCKS and limiting beliefs. 

This is the only too…

Tamar Viva
Distance Healing
$10 USD
Energy Healing (Distant)

Distant Energy healing promotes relaxation, reduces tension and stress and will support an overal sense of well being after a treatment. It is an effective ad…

Beverly Lynn
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
Tarot Reading

I offer tarot readings with a 100% accuracy rate.

I don’t do deity readings or readings about a third party. That to me, is a violation of the person.

Zara Kalil
Emotional Freedom Technique
$10 USD
Transform Your Relationship With Your Money

In this session, you will learn the basics of Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT. Together we will use that technique, sometimes called simply tapping, to sor…

Nancy Allen
Personal Development Coaching
$10 USD
Anxiety and Depression - Coaching Consultation and Assessment Call

Are you looking to begin making a change in your life and become the best version of yourself by breaking free from the emotional barriers that has been blocki…

Amritha Kailas
Mind Control
$72 USD
Women's Emotional Wellness and Transformation Coaching

Are you dealing with confusion, low esteem, anxiety, depression, overthinking , relationship issues and trying to find focus, confidence, purpose, peace and b…

Amritha Kailas
Past Life Regression
$10 USD
Soul Readings

Your Soul is an accumulated repository of existential experience.

Access your creativity, things you learned from past lives.

Healing, you learned how to mak…

Core of Your Spirit
Emotional Freedom Technique
$105 USD
EFT tapping - Heal your past and uncover your authentic self

EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is also know as EFT tapping. It is a mind-body approach which helps us to improve our physical, emotional and mental well-be…

Sina Weber
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
Single Card Pull

I will pull one single card for you to answer any question or concern. Typically, these types of quick readings are good for yes or no questions or simple answ…

Megan Zavar
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
One Question Tarot Reading

I’ll answer your question through Tarot and Oracle cards. I don’t restrict myself on the number of cards which will be used to give you guidance and clarity on…

Shanen Keith Hernandez
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
Love Reading

You can ask me up to 3 questions about your love situation and I will answer them all.

Sonya
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
General Tarot Reading

A three card spread to help you identify issues in your life and how to resolve them.

Tiffy

Related Articles