When should you retire? Sixty-five? 70? Never? How about when you’re 40?
Working full-time after 40 may damage your ability to think effectively, according to a new study. Doing 60 hours a week after that age is worse for your cognitive abilities than allowing them to wither in idleness, according to the Australian report.
This conclusion is based on testing in which 6,500 people were asked to read out loud, recite lists of numbers and match letters and numbers as fast as possible. The result: participants who worked full-time and were 40-plus fared worse than other groups in the study.
The suggestion that full-time work is bad for the mature brain is at odds with lots of other research that indicates staying engaged and learning new, complex skills helps protect our brains from the toll of aging. The Australian researchers admit they don’t really understand their own results, beyond suggesting that 40 or more hours per week of work may be too much of a good thing — taxing our brains and reducing cognitive ability. Nor do they have any idea whether the type of work done after 40 makes a difference.
Because some work is better for the brain than no work, the researchers suggest that mature workers limit themselves to 30 hours per week, enough time to keep the mind stimulated without causing damaging stress and fatigue.
Here’s what my 40-year-old brain thinks about this study: It’s silly. Our 40’s are typically when we reach the pinnacle of success; when we come into our own personally and professionally. I have never known anyone who felt like their capacity was diminishing in their 40’s. In fact, it’s usually when we feel the most capable.
Of course, if you are looking to enter semi-retirement at 43, go ahead and make this ”my job is hurting my brain” case to your boss and ask for a 30-hour week. Let me know how that goes.